Lent: A time to strengthen our bonds with God, promote charity with neighbors

Father John A. Kiley

“God is love,” St. John notably wrote in his first epistle. The apostle shortly makes clear what is meant by love: “Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.” For believers then love is eagerly reaching out toward the brother, toward the sister, toward any fellow human being, and, it must be added, toward God himself. Expressed a little more flatly, St. John might have written: God relates, God reaches out, God communicates, God shares himself. And those who profess God, who accept God, will similarly relate, reach out, communicate, share of him or herself. Think of the many Scriptural names and titles for God. By far God is described is terms and phrases that indicate relationships, connections, interactions.
God as Father, and likewise God as Son, express two close human relationships. Again, both the Old and New Testaments sometimes connote that God is like a mother, certainly a most tender relationship. Elsewhere God is announced as a king relating to his subjects; God is proclaimed a shepherd concerned for his sheep; God is declared the bridegroom caring for his bride. And yes, sometimes God is described as a rock or as a fortress, but even these images indicate that God is always relating: a boulder offers shelter from the hot sun, a citadel defends the downtrodden from the enemy. So indeed, God relates, God is love.
Through creation, God extended his eternal love to humble humanity, allowing mankind to share in the perfect bliss of the Godhead. Through redemption, the new creation, God renews his commitment even to a sinful mankind, forgiving sins, proffering grace, and strengthening virtue. At the end of time, God will welcome all the just into the eternal happiness of heaven itself, extending to mankind a fuller share in the very life of the Holy Trinity Itself – an eternity of mutuality, intimacy, sharing, and partaking. The self-giving that has ever marked the relationship among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit will gladly and profusely be shared with a saved mankind. The unity found in God will become the prerogative of every believer, born anew through the generous grace of God tendered by the saving death of Christ.
The shared and sharing love of God brought to fulfillment in the next world begins of course here on earth with the response to God’s generosity found in the daily life of every believer. It is no accident that Jesus’ reveals the meaning of Godlike love in terms that speak of kindly human interactions. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The measure revealing to what degree the inner relating life of God has penetrated the Christian soul is the extent to which that believer reaches out to those about him in thoughtful care, swift justice, and practical charity.
Again, St. Matthew, in the celebrated Sermon on the Mount, summarizes the authentic Christian life in phrases that speak of human interaction. Christ praises those mourners who miss a loved one. He lauds those meek souls who treat others kindly. He acclaims those who yearn for justice for all and those who are merciful to any offender as well as those who work for peace among mankind, those who regard others chastely, and those who are persecuted for their loyalty to their God and their fellow believers. Even the poor in spirit are acclaimed as those who forego material comforts for the consolation that an inner life of openness toward God and neighbor can bring.
Indeed, God is love. And the godly are indeed those loving believers who reach out first of all toward their God but also toward their friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens, toward the hungry, the ill-clothed, the homeless, the sick and the institutionalized. The salvation won for mankind by Christ certainly penetrates to the depth of the soul. But it also reveals itself daily through compassion, evenhandedness, and valor. “A new commandment I give you,” Jesus instructed toward the end of his life, “that you love one another.” By enshrining tender love in terms that suggest a strict rule, a commandment, Jesus clearly means serious business. There is no better time than the Lenten season to tighten one’s relationship with God through prayer and one’s relationship with the neighbor through charity.