I reflected last Sunday morning at Mass on the appropriateness of the sequence of the confession of our sins and acceptance of God’s forgiveness, followed by our expression of praise and love of God in the Gloria and then finally of expressing the important things that we believe about God (theology) in the Creed.
This reflects our experience of human love. When we have failed ‘the other’ in love and wish to restore that love, we express our sorrow, ask their forgiveness and then strive to strengthen and deepen our love and knowledge of ‘the other’. Most married couples would say they were attracted to their spouse and experienced the first pangs of love before they fully knew them. Love and attraction in their early stages came before their detailed knowledge of each other and determination to remain faithful. That love increased as they spent time together, talked together and became aware of ‘the other’s’ ever deepening love for them.
The newborn baby learns to love its mother very quickly after its birth and, in a loving home, is deeply in love with its parents before it knows much about them. First comes its experience of being loved. The same goes for the parents’ love of their new baby; first comes their love and later comes their increasing knowledge of the new baby’s personality. They don’t wait to know who or what exactly this baby is going to turn out to be before loving him/her. The love comes before the knowledge – Gloria Before Credo.
As Catholic Christians we are baptised into a community which is not primarily a community of people who attend Sunday Mass each week, or a community of daily Mass goers, or of those who regularly recite the rosary or attend Eucharistic adoration or engage in the daily, prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture or Lectio Divina, important as these are and as centrally important are Eucharist and Sacred Scripture. They are all ‘means’, not ‘the end’. At Baptism we are invited by God to join a community of love, The Loving People of God. Love is ‘the end’- love of God, experiencing His personal forgiving, compassionate and unconditional love as we become increasingly aware of His loving presence within each of us. To survive and grow love must break forth into loving service of others.
“I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. “ John 15:9-10
“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1John 4:17
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
“The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Galatians 5:14
“faith, hope and love, …….the greatest of them is love.” 1 Cor. 13:13
The above are just a few of many, many more biblical references to the centrality of love for all Christians. Sacred Scripture is not just attesting to the love of God for us but also to how that divine, redeeming and unconditional love must flow through us to those around us in our family, parish community, local and worldwide community and to the whole universe which is imbued with the presence of Omega Christ. In that way we give glory to God and help spread His kingdom of divine love on earth. Our love of God must be an outward moving and practical love. We cannot leave that challenge of practical love to the members of the local St. Vincent de Paul or Legion of Mary or to those who run food banks or soup kitchens. In Baptism each of us was called to play our part in being God’s conduit of love to others. The Church and every Catholic parish must be the incarnation of the infinite and unconditional love of God for all of humanity and the whole of creation.
Eucharist is primarily the sacrament of God’s love; “greater love has no person than to lay down their life for a friend.” John 15:13. That is the central meaning of Calvary. In receiving the risen Christ in Eucharist we are strengthened by Him and His Holy Spirit in our Christian vocation of love – to love God and especially to love Him existing intimately in all of humanity, in all of nature and throughout the whole of the universe His Father created. The Eucharist is a call to love and a spiritual strengthening to enable us to love.
“By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us and moulds us. We image (God) as distant and inaccessible, whereas we live steeped in its burning layers.” Teilhard de Chardin; ‘The Divine Milieu ‘
First the infectious joy of personally experiencing the love of God in their homes, parish community and joy-filled celebration of Sunday Eucharist and other parish services of praise and then comes the desire to learn more about this God of Love and to remain faithful to Him. We Catholics have got catechesis the wrong way round. We first send our children to Catholic schools to learn about God and their religion (The Creed) and then hope that their personal love of God will follow (the Gloria) and hope that for the rest of their lives they will be regular Mass-goers without really understanding why and without feeling personally and deeply loved by God; “The Mass is ended; go forth” (Ite, Missa Est) – no challenge there to be a conduit of God’s love to others. I suggest the absence of young people and young adults from many of our parish churches each Sunday shows the futility of first building school and knowledge based Religious Education for young people before they have personally experienced the joyful love of God in their homes, parishes, and personal lives – especially in the joy filled and Spirit filled celebrations of Sunday Eucharist. The Mass, as currently structured, is a very adult and clerically orientated liturgy and is mostly meaningless to young people. For them it can be an experience of enduring boredom rather than a joyful and appropriately meaningful expression of love for the God who loves them. Let us help our young people to see their faith as a Person, Jesus the Christ, and not primarily as an organisation or as a set of laws and rules, although it is important to help them develop a Christ-centred moral compass. All Christians need to let Jesus transform their consciousness into a deep awareness of His living and loving presence within them. As St. Paul put it, we must posses the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8) in all that we say and do.
For a small number of Catholics, including myself, that deep and personal experience of being unconditionally loved by God came for the first time, and most powerfully, through experiencing the joy-filled praise of God, the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit by lay people, mutual sharing and love of Sacred Scripture, all of which were the basis of Charismatic Renewal meetings and Life in The Spirit Seminars. All Catholics need an ever deepening knowledge and appreciation of their faith, not as something they possess but as a divine Person who possesses them, loves them intimately and unconditionally and resides permanently within them. First comes the early experience, then the desire for an ever developing knowledge of ‘the other’ (in this case it is our knowledge of God) and finally the personal decision for a life-long, loving and ever deepening relationship with God through Jesus the Christ and in the power of His Holy Spirit.
As we laity claim our rightful role of partaking actively in the administration and running of our parish and diocesan communities let it be in order to build a parish community of love, where all experience the love of God and love of other members and, in practical ways appropriate to each, a divine love that flows through us to all our family, parish, local and worldwide community. Let us ensure that our children and young people first experience the Gloria before they are given the Credo – hear about the indwelling, forgiving and fantastic love of God, experience it in joyful and Spirit filled celebrations of Sunday Eucharist and gradually learn that Church doctrines, rules and customs are there to protect its vocation of love and to sustain their parish and Church community of love – Gloria before Credo.