Saturday, February 14, 2015

QUINQUAGESIMA or the next Sunday before Lent.

I Corinthians 13 * Luke 18:31-43

The word “charity” is generally rendered “love” in just about any other translation of the Bible. The King James use of the word “charity” is something that may be instructive, if we take advantage of it. After all, the Greek word translated here as “charity” is agape’ (γπη), and in most places the King James Bible also translates it as “love.”

          One example is Romans 5:5: “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Notice, this love, agape’, is not just any love. It is the love of God. Well, if this is God’s own love, how can we be expected to have it ourselves? The answer is twofold.

          First of all, it is in the verse itself: “…the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” It is God’s own love, resident by grace, in the human heart. Second, as we continue to read, we see these words: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (vs.6-8).” God commends His love, once again, His agape’ (His charity, or if you prefer Latin, His caritas).

          This special love, the love of God, is given to us, that is, made to grow within us by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also makes us understand this particular love by seeing it in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had said, the night before His death, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” It has been said before that Jesus showed something greater than mere human love, that is Divine love, by dying for His enemies. And, though I appreciate a measure of truth in that statement, I prefer to take it a step further. In the following verse Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you (v.14).” Yet, His death is once for all, for every human being, every sinner, who has ever lived (Hebrews 10:10, John 1:29, I John 2:2). That is, from the Divine perspective, everyone has been treated as a friend, even the worst enemies who were crucifying Him. That is what His cross and death were about, reconciling the lost and fallen world to God. To whatever degree you may have ever acted like an enemy of God, on the cross Jesus has treated you as if you were a friend; for He gave His life for you.

          To experience Divine love for others as a gift, as grace, planted within you, as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22f) that grows within you, you need to receive the Holy Spirit. He alone can make this happen within your heart. It is more than natural love. It is supernatural love. In our Epistle reading this day, that most famous passage St. Paul ever wrote, we learn that this love is completely selfless, completely altruistic. It seeks nothing for itself. It endures everything, even the worst that people can do to you – and don’t we see that in Jesus as He forgave those who were crucifying and mocking Him?

          The reason charity “endureth all things” and “never faileth” is because it is God’s love. Faith works, love labors and hope endures. But, it is all because God’s children have the grace of God that comes only from the Holy Spirit “shed abroad in our hearts.” Without the Holy Spirit, you may love and love deeply. But, only with the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit, can you love perfectly. It is more than emotion; it is always giving. It doesn’t tire out when you come to the end of your own strength. Indeed, it may even begin there.

          And, as we have seen, you cannot understand this love unless you understand what Jesus did for you on the cross, when “He poured out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53:12)” to pay the full price for all of your sins. God commended His love to us, sinners, unworthy, indeed guilty before God, in that Christ died for us.

          How astounding are the words of St. Paul. To see them with fresh eyes, let’s look at some of today’s Epistle with the RSV:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (v.2).

Remember these words from the sermon on the Mount:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out demons? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:22,23) .”

          What do we learn from this? That even power to work miracles, even great knowledge and understanding, are no mark of a holy life. Since the Apostles went out and worked miracles, sent by Jesus to “every village and town” while He was with them on earth, we may be sure that Judas worked miracles too. It is no proof whatsoever of sainthood. That is because it is God’s work, not man’s. A holy person, a saint, cannot heal you by his own power anyway. And, evil men may still have the gifts and callings of God, even the power to work miracles (Romans 11:29).

          Then we look at these words from today’s Epistle reading (again let me use the RSV):

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (v.3).” 

          Why is that? Well, if you understand anything at all about the Gospel, you should know that good works do not atone for sin. Who, not having the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, go to great lengths such as we read about here? Is it not those who believe that they can atone for their own sins? Is it not those who believe they can earn God’s favor? But you cannot earn God’s favor, and you cannot atone for your own soul, neither for that of anyone else (“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” -Psalm 49:6, 7).

          One and only one atonement has ever been made. Every Old Testament sacrifice was a sacrament that would have meant nothing apart from Christ coming and fulfilling the whole Law, and offering Himself for sin. And, when you confess and repent, it is not atonement; you are not paying for your sins with penance. You can’t pay for them. Listen and hear the words again: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Let those words sink down into your ears. Let them take hold in your heart. That, His death, is the only price that has ever been paid, ever could be paid, or, indeed, that we need to have paid, for our sins.

          So, of course, you “gain nothing.” Of course “it profiteth me nothing.” It cannot anyway, nor have we need of any such thing to be justified by God.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).”

          What then about good works that God has “prepared for us to walk in?” Are they not the fruit of love, of agape’ shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit? Are they not the spontaneous response of a true believer, because you simply cannot do otherwise, and could not let yourself turn away? The person who acts from this love of God is not seeking to profit, not looking to gain anything for himself. Such a person knows how to depend on the Holy Spirit, and such a person is grateful always to God for the atoning death of Jesus Christ by which salvation has been freely given. So, such a person will always treat even “one of the least of these” as if he was serving the needs of the Lord Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:31-46).

          “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” For, that is no less than the presence of God Himself, for “God is Love” – “God is agape’ (I John 4:8, 16).” 


Vincent said...

Father Hart can you agree with Thomas Aquinas's argumentation here?

Christ’s Passion is of itself sufficient to remove all debt of punishment, not only eternal, but also temporal; and man is released from the debt of punishment according to the measure to which he participates [participat] in the power [virtutem] of Christ’s Passion. Now in Baptism man participates totally [totaliter] in the power of Christ’s Passion, since by water and the Spirit of Christ, he dies with Him to sin, and is born again in Him to a new life, so that, in Baptism, man receives the total [totius] remission of debt of punishment. In Penance, on the other hand, man shares in the power of Christ’s Passion according to the measure of his own acts, which are the matter of Penance, as water is of Baptism, as stated above (84, 1,3). Wherefore the entire [totius] debt of punishment is not remitted at once after the first act of Penance, by which act the guilt is remitted, but only when all the acts of Penance have been completed.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

No. I see real problems in it.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The first part is fine.

Vincent said...

Which first part are you referring too? The first sentence? What problems do you see? I know that it is Roman teaching that both the debt of eternal and temporal is remitted freely at baptism. But at Penance only eternal for the reason given by Aquinas. He also says that the eternal debt of sin is an infinite debt that can only be paid by an infinite being (Christ) and that temporal debt is a finite debt that can be paid by finite man (people in the state of grace).

I found this more orthodox approach taken about the treasurey:
Some persons, by grace and agape, store up treasure in heaven. “But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” (Matt 6:20; cf. Rev 19:8) This is not a material treasure, but a treasure of merit, and it is made possible only by grace. The ability of any righteous man to merit anything comes from the merit of Christ. “It is a defined article of the Catholic Faith that man before, in, and after justification derives his whole capability of meriting and satisfying, as well as his actual merits and satisfactions, solely from the infinite treasure of merits which Christ gained for us on the Cross.”1 So all the merit of the saints is in this way merited by Christ, and is a participation in the merit of Christ.

Is the above more orthodox than the usual medieval doctrine?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

More orthodox? Relatively speaking, as more or less imply, it is more orthodox. The problem with Thomas Aquinas' statement is the emphasis on penance. Repentance must be sincere, but works of penance in this formula, would be atonement, which is neither possible nor necessary. Absolution comes before penance anyway.