"The perfection of brotherly love lies in the love of one's enemies. We can find no greater inspiration for this than grateful remembrance of the wonderful patience of Christ. He who is more fair than all the sons of men offered his fair face to be spat upon by sinful men; he allowed those eyes that rule the universe to be blindfolded by wicked men; he bared his back to the scourges; he submitted that head which strikes terror in principalities and powers to the sharpness of the thorns; he gave himself up to be mocked and reviled, and at the end endured the cross, the nails, the lance, the gall, the vinegar, remaining always gentle, meek and full of peace.
"In short, he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before the shearers he kept silent, and did not open his mouth.
"Who could listen to that wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity "Father, forgive them¨ and hesitate to embrace his enemies with overflowing love? Father, he says, forgive them. Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?
"Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgement; therefore, Father, forgive them. They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them. They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
"If someone wishes to love himself he must not allow himself to be corrupted by indulging his sinful nature. If he wishes to resist the promptings of his sinful nature he must enlarge the whole horizon of his love to contemplate the loving gentleness of the humanity of the Lord. Further, if he wishes to savour the joy of brotherly love with greater perfection and delight, he must extend even to his enemies the embrace of true love.
"But if he wishes to prevent this fire of divine love from growing cold because of injuries received, let him keep the eyes of his soul always fixed on the serene patience of his beloved Lord and Saviour."
(From the Mirror of Love by Saint Aelred, abbot, in the Liturgy of the Hours, Lent, Week 1, Friday)
[We have been considering] two
fundamental words: eros, as a term to indicate "worldly"
love and agape, referring to love grounded in and shaped by
faith. The two notions are often contrasted as "ascending" love
and "descending" love. There are other, similar classifications,
such as the distinction between possessive love and oblative love
(amor concupiscentiae - amor benevolentiae), to which is
sometimes also added love that seeks its own advantage.
"In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life. Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to "be there for" the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34)."
(Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 25 December 2005)
"In Greek, the word 'fileo' means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word 'agapao' means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time: "Simon... do you love me (agapas-me)" with this total and unconditional love (Jn 21: 15)?
"Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said: 'I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally'. Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: 'Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se)', that is, 'I love you with my poor human love'. Christ insists: 'Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?'. And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love: 'Kyrie, filo-se', 'Lord, I love you as I am able to love you'. The third time Jesus only says to Simon: 'Fileis-me?', 'Do you love me?'.
"Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se)'.
"This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus' level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity.
"From here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] to the end: "This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, "Follow me'" (Jn 21: 19).
"From that day, Peter 'followed' the Master with the precise awareness of his own fragility; but this understanding did not discourage him. Indeed, he knew that he could count on the presence of the Risen One beside him.
"From the naïve enthusiasm of initial acceptance, passing though the sorrowful experience of denial and the weeping of conversion, Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts himself to this weakness of ours.
"We follow him with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and he accepts us. It was a long journey for Peter that made him a trustworthy witness, 'rock' of the Church, because he was constantly open to the action of the Spirit of Jesus.
"Peter qualifies himself as a 'witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed' (I Pt 5: 1). When he was to write these words he would already be elderly, heading towards the end of his life that will be sealed with martyrdom. He will then be ready to describe true joy and to indicate where it can be drawn from: the source is believing in and loving Christ with our weak but sincere faith, notwithstanding our fragility.
"He would therefore write to the Christians of his community, and says also to us: 'Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls' (I Pt 1: 8-9).
"(Benedict XVI, Peter the Apostle in the General Audience, 24 May 2006)
Be kind to each other.--I prefer you make mistakes in kindness--than that you work miracles in unkindness. Be kind in words.--See what the kindness of our Lady brought to her, see how she spoke. She could have easily told St Joseph of the Angel's message--yet she never uttered a word.--And then God Himself interfered. She kept all these in her heart.--Would that we could keep all our words in her heart. So much suffering--so much misunderstanding, for what? Just for one word--one look--one quick action--and darkness fills the heart of your Sister. Ask our Lady during this novena to fill your heart with sweetness. (Blessed Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, p 196)
This year I have often been impatient and even sometimes harsh in my remarks--and I have noticed each time I have done the Sisters less good--I always got more from them when I am kind. (Blessed Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, p 160)
"'De cetero, fratres, gaudete, perfecti estote, exhortamini invicem, idem sapite, pacem habete, et Deus dilectionis et pacis erit vobiscum.' (II Cor 13:11)
"Then comes "exortamini invicem". Fraternal correction is a work of mercy. None of us sees himself or his shortcomings clearly. It is therefore an act of love to complement one another, to help one another see each other better, and correct each other.
"I think that one of the very functions of collegiality is to help one another, also in the sense of the previous imperative, to know the shortcomings that we ourselves do not want to see - "ab occultis meis munda me", the Psalm says - to help one another to open ourselves and to see these things.
"Of course, this great work of mercy, helping one another so that each of us can truly rediscover his own integrity and functionality as an instrument of God, demands great humility and love.
"Only if it comes from a humble heart that does not rank itself above others, that does not consider itself better than others but only a humble instrument to offer reciprocal help; only if we feel this true and deep humility, if we feel that these words come from common love, from the collegial affection in which we want to serve God together, can we help one another in this regard with a great act of love.
"Here too the Greek text adds some nuances. The Greek word is "paracaleisthe"; it is the same root as the word "Paracletos, paraclesis", to comfort. It does not only mean to correct but also to comfort, to share the other's sufferings, to help him in his difficulties. And this also seems to me a great act of true collegial affection.
"In the many problematic situations that emerge today in our pastoral work, some people truly feel somewhat desperate, they do not see how to advance. At that moment, they need comfort, they need someone to be with them in their inner loneliness and do the work of the Holy Spirit, the Consoler: to give courage, to support us, assisted by the Holy Spirit himself who is the great Paraclete, the Comforter, our Advocate who helps us. Therefore, it is an invitation to make ourselves "ad invicem" the work of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
"'Idem sapite': behind the Latin word we can detect the word 'taste'. Have the same taste for things, have the same fundamental outlook on reality, with all the differences that are not only legitimate but also necessary; but have 'eundem saporem', the same sensibility. The Greek text says 'froneite', 'the same'. In other words, have essentially the same way of thinking.
"How can we essentially have a common way of thinking that helps us to guide the Holy Church together unless we share together in the faith, which has not been invented by any one of us but is the faith of the Church, the common foundation which supports us, and on which we stand and work?
"Thus, it is an invitation to integrate ourselves anew in this common thinking, in this faith that precedes us. 'Ne respicias peccata nostra sed fidem Ecclesiae tuae': what the Lord seeks within us is the faith of the Church and also the forgiveness of sins. We must have this common faith. We can and must live this faith, each in his or her own way but always knowing that this faith precedes us. And we must communicate our common faith to everyone else."
(Benedict XVI, Meditation on the Opening of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Celebration of the Third Hour. 3 October 2005
"The other point was: How can we live life as a gift? This is a question that we ask now, especially in Lent. We want to renew the option for life, which is, as I have said, an option not to possess ourselves but to give ourselves.
It seems to me that we can only do so by means of an ongoing conversation with the Lord and a conversation with one another. Also with 'fraternal correction,' it is necessary to develop the gift of one's self more and more in the face of an ever insufficient capacity to live.
"But, it seems to me that we must also unite both things. On the one hand, we must accept our inadequacy with humility, accept this 'I' that is never perfect but always reaches for the Lord in order to arrive at communion with the Lord and with all people. This humility in accepting our own limitations is also very important.
"Only in this way, on the other hand, can we also grow, develop and pray to the Lord that he will help us not to tire along the way, also accepting humbly that we will never be perfect and accepting imperfections, especially in others. By accepting our own imperfections we can more easily accept those of others, allowing ourselves to be formed and reformed ever anew by the Lord." (Benedict XVI, Q&A Session with the Roman Clergy, 25 March 2006)
"In addition to clarifying an important theological point in its description of the world episcopate as a college of equal members under the headship of the Bishop of Rome, the Council intended to promote episcopal fraternity. One aspect of that fraternity and mutual support was what the Church refers to as 'fraternal correction': bishops calling other bishops to account when necessary, as Cyprian, Augustine, and other had done in the Church's formative patristic era. Unfortunately, the functioning of episcopal conferences in the developed world tended to accentuate their men's club atmosphere, and in the atmosphere of the episcopal club (or, as one American cardinal called it, 'the brotherhood'), fraternal correction does not come easily. In many cases, it never came at all. In France, in Britain, in Canada, in the United States, and in South Africa, it was Rome, not the local conference, which was forced to discipline malfeasant bishops; even in extreme cases, the local "brotherhood" couldn't bring itself to act. Post-Vatican II bishops in the developed world like to think that they've professionalized the Catholic episcopate, and in some respects, they have. But one distinguishing hallmark of a true profession is that it's self-regulating; bar and medical associations that could not bring themselves to discipline malfeasant members would not be true professional associations. It is a point that does not seem to have been grasped by various bishops' conferences." (George Weigel, God's Choice, pp 125-126)
This is what Scott Hahn (a converted Protestant - now a Doctor in Franciscan University of Steubenville) told his audience at a recent conference in Denver on Confession:
A priest was in Rome and had a scheduled audience with Pope John Paul II. The meeting was scheduled for late afternoon and having some time on his hands, he went to a nearby church to pray. There were some steep steps leading up to the church and as he climbed the steps he noticed a number of beggars sitting on the steps. This isn’t unusual because there are a lot of beggars in Rome. As he passed, a man looked familiar, but he continued on into the church and prayed. While praying it dawned on him who the beggar he saw was – it was a former classmate from the seminary who had been ordained a priest with him. Shocked by this knowledge, he returned to the steps and found the fellow and said, “Are you Father Jim.”
“Yes,” replied the beggar.
“What has happened that you are in this condition now?”
“None of your business – so bug off and leave me alone.”
It was almost time, so he left and went to Vatican.
As the audience progressed, the Pope’s secretary gave each participant a rosary and each person was allowed to approach the Holy Father for his blessing. Most people were just blessed without speaking to the Holy Father. When it came his turn, he said to Pope John Paul, “Holy Father, I just had a shock. I encountered a former classmate who was ordained with me, now sitting as a beggar on the steps of St. Mary’s here in Rome. Will you please pray for him?” The Holy Father nodded and the priest moved on. Before he left the audience, he was approached by the Pope’s secretary who gave him two tickets to have dinner with the Holy Father that night at Vatican. He told the priest to bring his friend with him.
The priest hurried back to St. Mary’s and found his friend was still there. He approached him and said, “Jim, we’ve been invited to dine with the Pope tonight.”
Jim answered angrily, “Are you crazy? I’m a beggar – look at me – I’m dirty and haven’t a decent garment to wear – bug off!”
“Listen,” said the priest. “You’ve got to go with me. You are my ticket to this dinner! My hotel room is across the street. I’ll take you there and you can shower and shave and some of my clothes will fit you – you’ll be fine.”
He almost dragged the poor beggar to the hotel room. He got him all cleaned up and they returned to Vatican for dinner.
They were ushered into a room with a long table. The Holy Father was at the head of the table. After three courses of delicious food, the Pope’s secretary approached Father Jim and asked him to step into the hall. He then left with the Secretary.
Some time later, people asked, “When will they return for the dinner?”
“This Pope, we never know him.” Replied Pope’s secretary.
After dinner, the priest asked Father Jim, “What went on there and what happened?”
With tears in his eyes, Father Jim said, “Well, the secretary took me into the hall with the Pope.
The Holy Father said to me, ‘Father Jim, will you hear my confession.’
I exclaimed, ‘Holy Father, I’m just a beggar!’
‘So am I,’ replied the Holy Father.
‘But’, I replied, ‘I’m not a priest in good standing.’
The Holy Father answered, ‘Once a priest, always a priest.’
“Pope John Paul II knelt down and I heard his confession. When he had received absolution, I knelt before him and asked him to hear my confession too, which he did.
Then the Pope had reinstated my priestly faculties and assigned me to St. Mary’s parish where my ministry would be to the beggars there.” Father Jim said.