Thursday, June 19, 2014

Good Deeds Flow From Good Doctrine

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught that, above all else, we should be kind to one another. Jesus Himself taught that the whole law of the Old Testament can be summed up in love of God and neighbor.

Living in a world in which there are many different religions, many different belief systems and, very often, many people who hold no beliefs, love helps us to live together in peace. Love helps us form relationships with those who think and act differently than we do. Love bridges the gaps of belief and religion.

Because of this, we may be led to believe that dogmas and doctrines do not matter. We may be tempted to think that beliefs have little or no role to play in the practice of our faith. They may be interesting to discuss and debate but, beyond that, they have no effect on the choices we make everyday.

At the other extreme, we may be tempted to think that dogmas and doctrines are in fact harmful. We may see them as dividing people into rival camps of those who believe and those who do not believe. We may fear that adherence to doctrines will make us “dogmatic” and “judgmental”, unable to love our neighbor as Jesus calls us to.

While there is some truth to these attitudes, they do not take into account the whole picture. To live the Christian life we need both love and faith. We need both good deeds and good doctrine. In fact, it is because of doctrine that we know that love is important. The commandment, “You must love your neighbor as yourself,” is itself a doctrine. Our beliefs also teach us what it means to love our neighbor. The commandments spell out for us what love looks like in action. Therefore, faith and love, doctrine and deeds, are not at odds but support each other in helping us live as Jesus did.

One of the best examples of this truth is the dogma we celebrate today, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Our One God is a community of Three Persons who live to love one another. The Father exists for no other reason than to pour Himself out in love for the Son. The Son exists for no other reason than to receive that love. The Holy Spirit exists for no other reason than to express it back and forth between them. Giving, receiving and expressing love is the very life of the Holy Trinity.

It is because of this belief that God is a community of Persons united in love that we understand why love is so central to the life of faith. Because of this doctrine Moses can understand Him to be “a merciful and gracious God slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” rather than a vengeful God. Because of this belief, Jesus can say in today’s gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”.  Furthermore, it is because of our faith that Saint Paul can invoke this blessing on the people of Corinth: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” What appears to be the most complex and mysterious dogma of all - the dogma of the Holy Trinity - turns out to be fundamental to our understanding of how important love is.

Not only does this beautiful doctrine teach us about the importance of love, it also teaches us what it means to love one another.

When we think of love in today’s culture, we think of intense feelings between people who are physically attracted to one another. These romantic feelings come naturally without any effort. For that reason we say that we “fall in love.” Such love is not so much a choice we make but something that happens to us. We are almost the “victims” of love.

But the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us something totally different about the nature of love. The Father does not “fall in love” with the Son. Rather He actively gives Himself. He pours Himself out. He empties Himself holding nothing back. The Son, for His part, receives that love unconditionally. Opening Himself up to take in all that the Father has to give Him. The Holy Spirit is the expression of that love between them, giving it whole and entire, keeping nothing for Himself.

This dance of love among the persons of God teaches us that love is not just an emotion. Rather it is the active gift of oneself to another. I do not “fall” in love. I choose to love. Moreover, if my love is to be Godlike, I must give my whole self to my beloved, holding nothing back. Such a love involves commitment and sacrifice if it is to be a pure reflection of God’s love. That means that I do not only love those whom I am attracted to, but also those whom I find repulsive, those who offend me and even those who hurt me.

We know this to be true because that is the way that God has loved us. He sent His Son into the world to save us. He knew that He would be looked down upon. He knew He would be ignored and ridiculed. He knew that He would be eventually put to death. Yet He sent His Son anyway so that the true nature of God would be revealed to us. Now that we have experienced this tender, merciful care of our Creator, we must now treat others with the same compassion that we have received without conditions and without exceptions.

So we gather here today not to debate the doctrine of the Trinity nor to study or discuss it. Rather, we are here today to celebrate it. We are here to rejoice in the reality of the love which brought us into being and sustains us in existence. We are here to worship the God who sent His only Son to save us and whose Holy Spirit burns in our hearts bringing us the gifts of wisdom, understanding, peace and joy. Furthermore, we gather here to commit ourselves to loving one another as He has loved us. In so doing, we take this beautiful dogma out of the textbooks and out of the classroom into a world which is literally dying to hear the good news of God’s love.

No comments: