Beloved Children of the Father, Brethren of Jesus, His only begotten Son who remains in perfect communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Peace be upon you all. We are into the second month of the New Year 2017 which as I had demonstrated in the previous message, is an opportunity to begin a new life in Christ and conduct ourselves accordingly. While I commit this message to bring your minds to a salient course needed to propel our frail world in the right direction, I ask the Holy Spirit to truly fill us to the point when we will be empty of all vices.
Our True Beginning
The first epistle of St. John chapter 3 verse 11 speaks of a message that has been from the beginning: “for this is the message which you have heard from the beginning that we should love one another.” John impresses upon our minds how ancient this message must have been by dating it back to the beginning. What other meaning does ‘beginning’ have than the moment of creation recorded in the first book of the Bible and referred to in John’s Gospel? [cf. John 1: 1]. The ‘beginning’ is a clear function of time since time and space were created by God at the moment he decided to bring the world into existence. While the message John speaks of emerged in time, the active component of the message [Love] existed before time. How so? The first letter of St. John 4:8 affirms that God is love but then again God existed before time since he cannot be a function of his own creation. Furthermore, our faith professes a God who is not a lonesome being but an effervescent communion of love in which each person’s love [of the Trinity] gives joy to the other. As Trinity, God is an intimate partnership of love in which love is perfectly given and perfectly received. Speaking of God as Trinity proclaims that God is not three separate individuals, because separateness will be tantamount to loneliness in God, but rather an absolute communion of unbreakable love. “At the heart of God we find not solitude and isolation, not alienation and discord but the perfection of intimacy and communion that is itself the fullness of Joy. Put more powerfully, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as Catherine LaCugna wrote, means that “being-in-relation-to-another” is not peripheral to how we think about God, but is indeed the ultimate originating principle of all reality.” This ‘originating principle’ in His benevolence and omnipotence is responsible not only as the book of Genesis tell us, for the creation of the world [as against militating theories such as the Big Bang] but also the creation of Mankind [the body and soul jettisoning the evolution theory].
The first community [Father, Son and the Spirit] properly called the Trinity is a community of love yet this is the same God who had designed us, shaped us, made us, in the very beginning in His image and likeness [Gen 1:26]. Love and communion had existed and man comes from the action of the first community thereby sharing in that attribute which undeniably is part of his own identity [Love]. It becomes crystal clear how our beginning [existence] comes from God who is love and His love is the singular reason He will bring creation into existence and make humanity in his image. Having said this, I find the statement of the English Philosopher, Sociologist and Theologian, Elaine Storkey very essential and striking. She says “Love is not an option for human beings, it is a requirement. It is the most profound statement of who we are.” This goes back to the argument that no one is intrinsically evil but capable of giving love simply because they are God’s image. Love is our true identity, our true beginning. To recognise this truth is to be aware of what life truly means and how we should live, not putting ourselves at the centre of our lives but redirecting our attention unto another. Truly this does not come all too easy because the force of self-centeredness can be overwhelming so much that if its powers are not quelled adequately, it will turn us into a narcissistic monster, a denial of who we truly are and what we are meant to be. Put simply, the actual action of being created in God’s image tells us that our beginning in itself is a command to love another. This is the message from the beginning attested to in John’s first epistle [cf. 1 John 3:11].
Reading through the Synoptic Gospels, [Matt 22:34-40; Mark 12: 28-34; Luke 10:25-28] Jesus summarizes all the commands of the Torah in the two-fold command to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbour as yourself.” Not only does He condense the commandments into two but makes it known that these are the two greatest commandments and that those who fulfil them will inherit eternal life.
The Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani and Catholic writer, Thomas Merton says “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone, we find it with another.” From the beginning of our lives to the end, we are linked to everyone else who lives. We need communion and friendship, relationship and communities where people care for one another, support one another. All of us belong to one Race [the Human Race], to one fellowship [since the love of God has been poured into the hearts of every person who has ever lived; Rom 5:5]. If our beginning defines the reception of love as a gift, our destiny demands that we imitate it, participate in it and share it. Our Christian doctrine teaches us that learning to give and receive love is a lifetime calling because “as God’s finely sculpted images, we grow and have life only in relationships and communities characterised by mutual and generous love.” The path to growth and fulfilment is love; to love everyone because we all are children of the same Father [cf. Malachi 2:10] necessarily making us neighbours and siblings.
However, as we make our journey through life, we find out that some persons are not so easy to love. Some may be quarrelsome, irritating and obnoxious but we should not lose sight of the truth and nature of God’s heart, who loves these people as much as He loves us. Take a listen to the words of An American novelist by name Anne Lamott who said “You can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he hates all the same people you do.” The point is clear; God is not made in our image but on the contrary we are created in His image and likeness. Therefore, in the community of charity we are called to love whomever God loves and secondly because His love excludes no one.
In 2009 our revered Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, in one of his letters to the Bishops of the Catholic Church says, “The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon. By extinguishing the light of God’s approach, humanity is losing its bearing with increasingly evident destructive effects.” In succinct words the German pontiff has highlighted the devastation faced by the world today in the attempt of man to usurp the hierarchy. His avowal serves as a veritable point of reference in talking about the different scenarios where God and His command are relegated to the background. Considering the appalling happenings in the world it can be firmly established that Love is gradually disappearing from human affairs and being replaced by extreme measures defined by mankind which undeniably are stark violation of our true identity. The consequences are just as right as the pontiff has stated and unless there is a restoration, the evils will rock to the depth. The world needs to be set in right perspective, we need to recognise and accept all over again the message of our true beginning and our destiny.
The month of February is notable for the celebration of Love all over the world particularly because Valentine’s Day offers this opportunity. Beyond everything the love for God and the love of God is most paramount. While the former pertains to our relationship with God in the person of Jesus Christ [love for God], the latter concerns our rapport with our neighbours [love of God]. This month stands as a vantage point for us to rediscover our beginning, to bring God back to our human prospects. Let us take a moment to reflect: What is life without love but death? What is a day without love but an empty and non-existent day? What is a professional life without love but mere fruitless and worthless venture? What is a family or a couple without love but sadness? What are you without love but a false identity and mere void?
O Holy Spirit enkindle the hearts of your faithful with the fire of your Love.
+ Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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