Written by Fr. Martino Nguyễn Bá Thông (St. Anne Catholic Church - Columbus, GA)
Friday, 20 March 2009
One of our neighboring churches had this message on their billboard: "God so loved the world that he did not send a committee." Well, committees have their place and we have plenty of them at St. Anne, but all of us recognize that things happen not so much because people sit around a table, but because of some person's passion. The committee itself only succeeds because one or two members have a burning care in their heart.
However, before anything can be set in motion there must be LOVE! But what is love? What does it mean to say God loves us? To understand what the Bible means by God's love we must bear in mind that whereas the Greek language has three different words for three different types of love English has only one. In Greek we have (1) eros meaning romantic love (like the love between a man and a woman that leads to marriage), (2) philia meaning fellowship love (like the love for football which brings people together to form a fan club), and there is (3) agape or sacrificial love (like the love that makes a mother risk her own life for her yet unborn child).
In romantic love we long to receive, in fellowship love we long to share, in sacrificial love we long to give. Now, with what kind of love does God love us?
God loves us with agape; or sacrificial love. "God loved the world so much that
He gave..." That is one big difference between God and us: God gives and forgives, we get and forget. Giving is a sign of agape. This is the kind of love God has for us. This is the kind of love we should have for one another. This is the kind of love that is lived in heaven. And where this kind of love is absent, what you get is hell.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has given us His only Son, How do we respond to God's gifts? For the gifts God so generously gives to us, what are we called to do in return?
Paul tells us we are "created in Christ for good works." The Apostle James wrote, "faith without words is quite dead" (James 2:26). Good works naturally flow forth from our faith. Our gift back to God is to give with a heart of love, just as God gives to us. A good place to begin giving is with the family. Praying together, perhaps the whole family coming to Stations of the Cross during Lent; or to support each other, the whole family attending the soccer game to cheer for a son's team. Giving is for the student to be a tutor to help others and for a parent to be active with the Parent Teachers' Association. Giving is to be involved with your church, helping with landscaping or the teen program or a liturgical ministry. To give as God gives.
A certain saint asked God to show her the difference between heaven and hell. So God sent an angel to take her, first to hell. There she saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, "Why are you not eating?" And he showed her his hand. A long fork about 4ft long was strapped to their hands such that each time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. "What a pity" said the saint. Then the angel took her to heaven. There the saint was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with a four-foot fork strapped to their arms. But unlike in hell, the people here were happy and laughing. "What!" said the saint to one of them, "How come you are happy in this condition?" "You see," said the man in heaven, "Here we feed one another."
Can we say that of our families, our neighborhood, our church, our world? If we can say that, then we are not far from the kingdom of heaven.
Today the Church invites us to reflect on God's love for the world and to be joyful because of it. God loves each and everyone of us, so much so that He give us His only son. Today we are invited to say yes to God's love. It is sometimes hard to believe that God loves even me, but I believe it because I know that God's love is unconditionally; no ifs, no buts.
Then we can love God back and enter into a love relationship with God. Then we shall learn to share God's love with those around us. Then we shall learn to give to God and to one another, just as God gave us. Do remember this line, and it is it good to begin to do it as part of lent: "The world begins where your front yard ends."
Father Martino Nguyen Ba-Thong