Feast of the Holy Family – December 26, 2010 – St. John’s
The passage we heard as our second reading today, taken from the Epistle to the Colossians, is an exhortation meant for the whole Church. We are urged to display compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience with one another, and forgiveness; and for this last, a motive is stated: “As the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”
The logic of that exhortation deserves reflection. We all know the golden rule, in either of its two forms: “Do not do to others what you would not wish to be done to you”; and, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here St. Paul offers another way of looking at things: “Do unto others as God has done unto you.”
It is a logic that we find all over the NT. Jesus comes and calls people to repent; but this call follows the great announcement: The reign of God is near! His Sermon on the Mount with its extraordinary demands is preceded in Matthew’s Gospel by the account of the extraordinary favor being dispensed in the miracles of Christ. St. Paul urges his people to be reconciled to God, but this comes a few verses after he has told them: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”Think of what in the Fourth Gospel Jesus himself put so neatly: “Love one another as I have loved you.” The great Christian indicatives always come before and are meant to inspire the great Christian imperatives.
This is what one might call the objective ground of our moral responsibilities. It is because the world is what it is, that we are to act as we should, in order to be, as it were, at home in this world. It is a world created by God, and created good; and its health and beauty are to be appreciated and respected. We ourselves are God’s good creation, and, although we, alone among all his creatures, have the ability to choose not to be what we ought to be, his love for us has not ceased; indeed its depth has been revealed in the mystery we celebrate these days: in Jesus Christ come to save us and reunite us to his Father. This is what this universe is; this is who we are within it, and if we are to be at home in this world, fit into such a universe, we learn in such readings as today’s how we are to act.
That is why to this objective ground there corresponds a subjective principle, and that is love: “Over all these things, St. Paul says, “put on love, the bond of perfection.” It is love that generates the attitudes and virtues with which Paul begins: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness. These flow naturally from love; they are love’s expression. Where people love, such attitudes do not even have to be commanded; and where people do not love, it is useless to command them. They are hardly possible without love.
This indicative and imperative are once again united in the way St. Paul ends this exhortation: “And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Gratitude is the fundamental response to the great gifts of God to us.
Perhaps it might make a good New Year’s resolution that we try to be more grateful, to make a point of expressing our gratitude, first of all to God for his good creation, for our own existence, for having been given to know of his love for us in Christ, and then gratitude also to others for the good persons they are and the good things they bring to our lives. If we acknowledge more often, and with keener awareness, that all this universe, and we within it, are pure gift, free gift, then the love that alone can properly correspond to such a universe will not be merely the object of some external commandment, but will be the freely flowing response of grateful hearts.