on Christian Love

It is love that again constitutes the theme of “Meatfare Sunday”.  The Gospel lesson of the day is Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment (Matt 25:31-46).  When Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgment?  The parable answers: love-not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous “poor”, but concrete and personal love for the human person, any human person, that God makes me encounter in my life.  This distinction is important because today more and more Christians tend to identify Christian love with political, economic, and social concerns; in other words, they shift from the unique person and its unique personal destiny, to anonymous entities such as “class”, “race”, etc.  Not that these concerns are wrong.  It is obvious that in their respective walks of life, in their responsibilities as citizens, professional men, etc, Christians are called to care, to the best of their possibilities and understanding, for a just, equal, and in general more humane society.  All this, to be sure, stems from Christianity and may be inspired by Christian love.  But Christian love as such is something different, and this is difference is to be understood and maintained if the Church is to preserve her unique mission and not become a mere “social agency,” which definitely she is not.

Christian love is the “possible impossibility” to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself.  For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power that transcends the accidental and the external in the “other” -his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity- and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal “root” of a human being, truly the part of God in him?  If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the “soul” or “person” He gave every man.  Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love.  There is no “impersonal” love because love is the wonderful discovery of the “person” in “man” , of the personal and unique in the common and general.  It is the discovery in each  man of that which is “loveable” in him, of that which is from God.

In this respect, Christian love is sometimes the opposite of “social activism” with which one so often identifies Christianity today.  To a “social activist” the object of love is not “person” but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract “humanity”,  But for Christianity, man is “loveable” because he is person.   There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as a person.  The “social activist” has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the “common interest”.  Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways actually is, rather skeptical about the abstract “humanity,” but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person.  Social activism is always “futuristic” in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved.  Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now-the only decisive time for love.  The two attitudes are not mutually exclusive, but they must not be confused.  Christians, to be sure, have responsibilities toward “this world” and they must fulfill them.  This is the area of “social activism” which belongs entirely to “this world”.  Christian love, however, aims beyond “this world”.  It is itself a ray.  A manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all “conditions” of this world because its motivation as well as its goals and consummation is in God.  And we know that even in this world which “lies in evil”, the only lasting and transforming victories are those of love.  To remind man of this personal love and vocation, to fill the sinful world with this love- this is the true mission of the Church.

-Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, pg 24-26.

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