Be forewarned. There is a Judas in every group. Some people would call them by other names, like backstabbers, snake, betrayer or deceiver. They tend to gain a little power over others, and to make themselves feel important, they ply their trade with total disregard for the well being or good of others or society in general. In other words, they do the devil's bidding. This evil will not prevail if only people would stand up and call it out went it rears its ugly head. Christ Himself said that evil shall not prevail against His church. So be forewarned.
What does the word “love” mean to you? We could describe it in many different ways. We could attempt to define it by setting forth what it is not. Or we could try to define it by seeking descriptive phrases from the bible. Finally we could set out expressive words showering it in a positive light. This short story on love will use a little of all three methods. We know “love” is some sort of relationship, bond, rapport or connection between two objects. We as humans are classified as animals in the animal kingdom as opposed to the other living things, plants. (All life is either plants or animals.) Life is the particular flora and fauna of a particular place and time. Can plants exhibit love? I would think not. Does only animal life exhibit love? We must conclude that only animal life can exhibit love because love is based on emotional and rational thought or experience. Non-living objects surely cannot love. An automobile cannot love its tires for example. But can grasshoppers love each other? Surely a momma cat has some type of affection for her baby kittens. There must exist some emotion or empathy between the mother cat and her kittens. Can we then conclude that non rational animals, animals other than humans like cats, love? Is the natural instinct of a mother cat for grooming, herding and feeding her offspring to be considered love? I think love goes beyond the natural, innate responses by animals within the animal kingdom in nature. It seems to me that love requires rational thought, which animals, other than humans, do not possess. A momma gorilla will protect her young from outside danger, but does she love her young like a human mother loves her newborn? Possibly, since some human mothers show a complete lack of affection for their babies. We still have abortions and adoptions. Pregnant mothers smoke, drink and use drugs during pregnancy. But love requires rational thought. These aforementioned described actions by rational creatures are irrational. So can we conclude then that love is a positive, spiritual act of rational consciousness toward another object?
Let’s leave the discussion of love with regard to plants and the lower animals and concentrate on human beings. To begin, we know that God loves unconditionally, omnipotently, eternally and all those other descriptive words we can invoke. Humans cannot and do not love like God loves. Human love is imperfect and it exist in degrees, not degrees with regard to temperature but in regard to amount or capacity. And human love must be directed to another object, either an animate or inanimate object. For example I can love my dog and my wife. Or I could love money or my car or my hobby or profession. But can I really “love” an inanimate object? The bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But can I really love money? I can be overpowered, self-absorbed and driven by an irrational desire to acquire money but can humans really love an inanimate object? Humans might be driven by a desire for inanimate objects but that desire is not really love. Such a desire is an ill placed emotion, a defective passion, sensation or feeling clouded with misplaced feelings. It is impossible for humans to love an inanimate object. Further I can love my dog, Theodore, but would such affection be a proper description of love if Theodore cannot love me back since he lacks rational thought?
To me, to love is to be loved. Love requires reciprocity, a mutual exchange. But an exchange of what? Love? We cannot use a word to describe itself. The Greeks used three words to describe love: agape, eros, and philia. Agape means the love of God for man and of man for God. It referred to feelings for one's children and the feelings for a spouse. Thomas Aquinas explained it as "to will the good of another.” Philia was used as an affectionate regard or friendship, usually between equals. Eros was used to describe the sexual passion, a basic human desire. You have heard this story before. Christ asked Peter twice, “Do you agape me?” Peter responded twice, “Yes Lord, I philia you.” Christ, in His desperation, had to settle for philia love from Peter the third time when He asked Peter, “do you philia me?” So love does exist in degrees.
So let’s look at our definition so far. Love is a positive, spiritual act of rational consciousness between at least two human beings. Note I described love as spiritual. Love is not a physical act. In other words, sexual gratification is not love. The sexual act may be a response to love, or in the opposite extreme, a response to innate physical reproductive drive, but mere sexual intercourse is not love. Therefore love is based upon an experience on a rational existence on a higher plane beyond the physical world. In other words, love is a thought or physical encounter which produces a sensation that transcends this world. And love is alive. It requires rational consciousness. Both parties must be conscious of this sensation and it must be exchanged but not necessarily equally. Can I love one person more than the other loves me? Absolutely. I think my wife use to love me much more than I loved her. Now, we probably love each other on an equal plane, unfortunately hers decreased but fortunately mine increased. Love requires awareness. Surely I cannot love or be loved if I am not aware of the others sentiment. Love is a complete and total giving of self to another and an acknowledgment of this surrender between the parties. God commands that we love our neighbor as our self. Isn’t that difficult? How do we even know we love our own self? Some people really hate themselves. They are into cutting or drugs or even suicide. Remember love within humans is never perfect. Love is an emotion which must be developed. We develop it by seeking and knowing the perfect love, that of God’s love. And this reaction from another and feeling toward another, which is shared, must be positive. Love can never be based on negative sentiment. It is peaceful, tranquil, non-judgmental, conscientious and empathetic. So if I do decide that I love myself, how do I love my neighbor if my neighbor does not return the same positive sentiment to me? Or to take matters further, what if my neighbor does not return any feeling at all. This begs the question, does love require an exchange. If I do love my neighbor as myself, but my neighbor does not love me at all, then have I achieved divine love, the love which God displays to us? When we love our neighbor as our self, we are loved by God. Therein lies the reciprocity. We exchange our love with humanity and God exchanges His love with His created. Humans can never return the same love to neighbor and God as God showers upon us but we are to love Him with as much human fortitude as possible and love our neighbor as our self. Therefore, love is an exchanged positive, spiritual act of explicit rational consciousness which results in a complete and total giving of self to the other and God.
True love leads to peace, joy and happiness in this world with self and neighbor and to perfection in the next with God. “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:1-13. Love is the one constant in this universe that can never fail. It is the medium by which a depraved humanity is suspended on a rational plane. It is the fuel that sustains human life within a tumultuous natural environment. Love is the building blocks of a rational psyche. Love impedes depravity such that humanity remains rational. Love supports and sustains the soul as food and water nourishes the body. A human must experience the love of another human. Only then can he comprehend, accept and cherish the love of God.
My wife and I just returned from a religious pilgrim to Rome. What an amazing experience. We attended Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Vatican and visited the Sistine chapel, the place where Popes are chosen. We attended Mass in the Papal Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. We saw the burial places of Saints Peter and Paul and walked on the Appain Way, the original stone road where Saint Paul was marched into the city in chains. We visited the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains which houses the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. The Basilica is also the home of Michelangelo's statue of Moses, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The execution spots of Saints Peter and Paul are now commemorated by Catholic churches, the Clementine Chapel located in the underground necropolis under Saint Peter's Basilica and the Church of Saint Paul at the Three Fountains, respectively. We visited the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls which contains the final resting place of Saint Paul. Saint Peter was ultimately buried outside the city walls in a necropolis on Vatican hill along with several early Popes. Eventually the Roman Emperor Constantine built a basilica over Peter’s grave and the necropolis. Peter’s tomb was placed directly under the alter of the original Saint Peter’s Basilica. We took the underground tour to see the remains of the original Basilica and the tomb of Saint Peter in a necropolis in the third archeological layer under the original Basilica. The present basilica is built directly over the original basilica. We visited the catacombs and saw where the bodies of Saints Peter and Paul were interned for a year and a half before receiving there final resting places. The land upon which the catacombs sit were donated by a wealthy roman Christian convert as a burial site for the early Christians before the persecutions ended. Over a half million Christians were buried in the catacombs of St. Callixtus alone.
We also visited the many sites of the Romans: the coliseum, the forum, Palatine Hill and the Domus Aurea, Nero’s golden house. We saw the arches of Constantine, Titus and Severus. The Pantheon, now a Catholic church, displayed Roman construction ingenuity. We climbed Mt. Vesuvius and saw the destructive power of the volcano in 79 A.D. Pompeii and several other cities were destroyed and surprisingly preserved for present day viewing. Ancient Pompeii was a middle class city but several residents had considerable means. The House of the Faun was a magnificent display of Roman upper class society with its grand entrance, a business office immediately thereafter and then the porticoed courtyard with all of the residential rooms surrounding it. We saw ancient bakeries, ancient fast food joints, and Roman baths that would be the envy of any modern day spa. We saw ancient brothels, hotels and amphitheaters. In the national museum in Naples we saw fabulous collections of coins, cook ware, and glass ware taken from Pompeii and placed on display. Impressive were the collection of the statuary, from ancient Roman and Greek Gods, conquering heroes and every day persons, including the very impressive statue in the Bachelor House. The most impressive however were the painted frescos and tiled mosaics persevered for centuries by the volcano and now on display in the Naples museum. These “pictures” and “portraits” were of battle scenes and war victories, nature scenes and exotic animals, aquatic and plant life and just everyday scenes. The skill and effort put into these displays demonstrate a long lost craft of artistic competence. But what we saw confirms that the people of Pompeii in 79 A.D. lived as we do today with one exception. God and Christ was not on display anywhere in Pompeii. It was still a pagan city. Peter and Paul had been dead for only 10 years when Vesuvius unleashed its wreath but we can assume that a few Christians may have lived there. We did see one volcanic ash, entombed woman on her knees with her hands joined as if in prayer.
We also had a chance for a day trip to Assisi, a quaint city of fame for the birth and death of Saint Francis. It is an old ancient stone city beautifully preserved perched on top of a tall hill. We arrived by train from Rome and had to take a bus for a 2.5 mile ride from the train stain to the outskirts of town. Assisi is a no auto zone, except for its residents. The town was impeccably clean and not one sign of graffiti. We ate lunch in the Piazza del Comune at a small trattoria where the tables spilled out into the street and was seated next to a nice lady from Austria who was visiting Italy with her daughter who had just graduated from high school. We visited the main sites, the Church of Saint Claire, San Rufino Cathedral and Saint Francis Basilica, where he is laid to rest. The cross that commanded St. Francis to rebuild His church is now on display in the Church of Saint Claire. I didn’t hear Saint Francis’s cross speak to me as it did him. But I did ask.
What I was most concerned about though was the lack of any Protestant presence. There are over 900 Catholic churches in Rome, nearly one in every block. In fact we stayed at a bed and breakfast with a church and bell tower just across the street. The bells would ring at 6:30 pm every day. Yes, London is full of Protestant Churches, but you can thank King Henry the VIII for that fact, not Peter, Paul and Constantine. The lack of Protestant churches aside, I heard a homily upon our return to the States and the priest mentioned an old acronym formulated by the Protestants, What Would Jesus Do (WWJD). He concluded that that was not the proper question to ask because we are not God. We cannot do what Jesus did. Coincidentally, if you do not know what Jesus would do in a particular life situation, I doubt you are a very serious Christian. Jesus was a servant to all. He would feed the hungry, cloth the naked, cure the sick, raise the dead and forgive sins. I think the proper question to ask is “will you imitate Christ?” WYIC. What would the process of the imitation of Christ look like? Let’s face it. It would not be an attempt to be politically correct. Christ went into the temple and cleaned out the place. He defied Roman and Jewish authority… He preached the saving Word of the Father. He brought light into the darkness. The imitation of Christ requires change in thought and action. And this change must become a habit and the transformation of your whole being into permanence.
Which path are you on, the wide path or the narrow path? Does this following passage from the Bible in any way resemble your current thoughts and actions? “Evil whispers to the sinner in the depths of his heart: the fear of God does not stand before his eyes. Evil’s flattering light disguises his wickedness, so that he does not hate it. His words are false and deceitful, he no longer considers how to do good. Even when in bed he plots mischief; he follows the wrong path; he does not hate malice…” Psalm 35. Christ quoted scripture to the devil when the evil one tempted Him in the desert. We are a much easier prey for the evil one today than Christ ever was. The evil spirit often makes sin pleasurable and desirable in order to deceive us. Our peace lies in overcoming these temptations. Yet most of us have the Holy Spirit near, calling to us from a distance to change our paths. Do you live in evil? Have you discerned the evil spirit and banished it?
The above described person, with probably few exceptions, was all that existed in Pompeii in 79 AD. But the words in the following passage was the mindset that Peter and Paul brought to Rome. “Hold out your mercy to those who know you, offer your justice to the upright in heart. Let me not be crushed under the heels of the proud, nor dispossessed by the hands of sinners. The doers of evil have fallen where they stood, they are cast down and cannot rise.” Psalm 35
Once you have recognized and conquered the evil spirit’s existence and attacks on your life, you can befriend the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is all powerful and will always defeat the evil one but we must activate the power of the Holy Spirit, we must believe in Him and call upon Him for help then rely upon Him. Then all of our thoughts and actions can be guided and controlled by the Holy Spirit. The evil one will still pester you in varies way, such as encounters with evil people, images of despicable subjects or thoughts of sorrow and despair, but know that you now have control of your mind and conscience and can never fail with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
“Be careful, my child, in all you do, well-disciplined in all your behavior. Do to no one what you would not want done to you. Give your bread to those who are hungry, and your clothes to those who are naked. Whatever you own in plenty, devote a proportion to almsgiving. Bless the Lord God in everything; beg him to guide your ways and bring your paths and purposes to their end.” Tobit 4:14-15, 16, 19.
We must return to this advice of truth and light. We must ask God to teach us to see Christ present in all men, our neighbors; but we start by asking Him to help us to recognize Him in ourselves and most of all, in those who suffer. You can see Christ in the man with no legs or the poor Christian woman begging on the street. When you recognize Christ in them, you should know that you have Christ within. Ask the Holy Spirit to banish all evil from your life and begin to imitate Christ.
Will you imitate Christ? WYIC
It’s astonishing to me that the whole of the Roman Empire was converted under Constantine and began to imitate Christ in 325 A.D. But many Romans were converted when the Word hit Rome soon after Christ’s death. In fact there were many Christians already in Rome when Paul was forced to visit Rome during his first captivity around 61 A.D. The Romans still imitate Christ today. But they cater to tourists from around the world on a 24/7 basis. And that service is based on financial greed, not servanthood. I saw a lack of the servanthood of Christ in Rome. The most common banter was “pizza, pasta insalata?” Every street was lined with trattorias with sidewalk cafes, gelato shops and businesses selling souvenirs to tourists. All the while Rome’s beautiful churches are in decay. The frescos are pealing, the wooden inlaid frescoed ceilings are splitting, water damaged from leaking roofs and rotting. The cardinals and bishops drive around Rome in their black Mercedes with dark tinted windows. The streets are littered with trash and graffiti is painted on the sides of every building, tram, train and bus in the city. The grass in public spaces goes uncut all summer. I worry about the eternal city. Would Constantine and his mother, Helena, have allowed for such decay. Never did I hear a gesture or utterance of Christ in the streets. It’s like the light and life of Christ has been sucked out of the city. Sure, there are still local Romans who attend church, just like here in the States. But it seems that the dedication lasts for about an hour then it disappears, just like here in the States. One would expect more of a Christian dedication in the eternal city. But I was not disappointed with my visited. It proved to me that the light and life of Christ once shined brightly in Rome some 1700 years ago because I saw firsthand how the martyrs suffered and how Peter, Paul and Christ were once revered. We can return to that dedication if we choose to imitate Christ. WYIC?