Love. Period.

Image result for John 15:9-17Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…This I command you: love one another.” ~John 15:9-17

The Christian life is very very simple…not easy, but simple. Jesus makes it abundantly clear, even to the point of stating it over and over, if we are going to call ourselves His disciples then we absolutely must love one another. Love is not an “extra” to the Christian life, but is rather essential to it. God is love. God the Father loves the Son. God the Son loves us to such a great degree that He was willing to die for us. Naturally, then, if we call ourselves His, how could we ever fail to love others? In fact, in the first epistle of John, John tells the community that if they don’t love each other then they can’t even claim to know God at all! He calls them liars! He says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (4:7-8)

I think as Catholics we too often get caught up in all the “have tos” “musts,” and “don’ts,” and in doing so become horrible legalists–always looking for the fine line to justify or excuse a particular action. We live our Christian life under the burden of the finite details instead of focusing on the broader principal the underlies all of the Church’s teachings, her dos, don’ts, and musts, namely, love! Jesus had little time or patience for the Pharisees for this very reason (see MT 23). He calls them “blind guides” who have entirely missed the point on what it means to be a child of God.

The Christian life, far from a life of fear of wrongdoing (like abused children always afraid of angering father) is instead one marked by joy, celebration, hope, optimism, life, and love. We are loved my a merciful and forgiving God. We don’t live in fear, we live in God’s grace, mercy, and love. The question each of us must ask ourselves, is not primarily “What does the Church say about this or that,” but instead, “Is this the most loving thing that I can do in my present situation?” When we realize, as St. Paul teaches the Church in Corinth (10:23), that we are free in all things, then we realize also, that our words and actions have amazing and awe-ful consequences. When we come to know the true power of our actions, we will naturally want to make sure that what we do is indeed what is most loving–and that’s the role of the Church in every generation! Namely, to be a sure guide in the formation of our conscience so that we do the good we desire to do from moment to moment.

The Church is an amazing gift to us! God sends His Spirit into the Church, and in every generation speaks to her that she might know what is most good and most loving at every moment in time until Christ returns. We use the Church’s vast experience to form our conscience, and it’s within the well-formed conscience that we hear the voice of God echo in our depths prompting us to do the good that God desires of us, to know what is most loving and true. The well-formed conscience is able to choose what is truly most loving in any particular situation, and then allows us to sleep well in the peace of knowing that in each circumstance of our day we chose to love in obedience to Christ, and thus remain His. St. Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” Well said, indeed. Let us who desire to love in word and deed never fail to first be trained in it.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

5 comments on “Love. Period.

  1. Stephen, I enjoy our blog. Can you explain to me, as a person from a non-Catholic background, what is the Biblical rational for the last paragraph? I am not very familiar with the Catholic understanding of the role of the Church and church council. You are also welcome to email me privately, if you like.

    Just trying to better understand.


    • Hi Thomas, thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoy the blog. Your question, if I understand it correctly, is a REALLY good question. I believe you’re asking for a Scriptural basis for the function or role of the church. Of course, as a part of that question would be the official gatherings of the Church from time to time in order to address doctrinal issues (councils). I hope it’s okay if I answer your question by way of a blog post. You’re not the only one, to be sure with this question, and the answer is a bit complicated, albeit I believe entirely reasonable. So, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to post soon about this–especially in light of the Easter Season coming to an end when we celebrate Pentecost Sunday (May 24), often referred to as “The Birthday of the Church.” That would be a perfect time for me to talk about the Church’s own understanding of herself, her mission and function in the world until Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.

      • Yes, you seem to have correctly apprehended my question. To put it a little different way: How much authority does church council have, from where does it derive that authority, and what do we do when Scripture and Church council appear to contradict? Certainly this is a question that Christians have wrestled with for centuries, and I would like to come to a better understanding of the subject.

        Pentecost Sunday would indeed be a great time to discus this in detail…I will look forward to your response.

  2. Hi Thomas! I’m so sorry that I’m only now responding to your question! Please accept. I don’t know how I failed to stay on top of this! First let me recommend two very good and thorough books on the topic that will do so much more for your understanding than what I might deliver here. The first is by Mark Shea, and is titled, “By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition,” and the second is by Richard R. Gaillardetz, and is titled, “By What Authority?: Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful.”

    To your question, there is only one deposit of faith. Period. Catholics believe that the fullness of truth that God desired to make known to mankind was revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Of course, those teachings/that truth was first transmitted by word of mouth, or what is referred to as the “oral proclamation,” (up to 30yrs after Jesus’ death) and eventually came to be written down (30-60yrs) to be used as a form of Catechesis for those who desired to follow Jesus. Those teachings about Jesus, and the letters written by others were eventually accepted (and some rejected) and then compiled into what we today refer to as the New Testament. Whether oral or written, it is all one deposit of faith. Naturally, then, councils do not contradict Scripture, as Scripture itself was born out of councils. Truth does not contradict truth. If I recall, the New Testament Canon was debated at the Council of Hippo in 393, Carthage in 397, and then finally approved by Pope Innocent in 405AD. Over the course of these years, books were debated, accepted, or rejected based upon their authorship, universality, and consistency with what was known to be true by the Catholic bishops and theologians at the council. For more about the books that were not chosen, see New This link will take you to both the Apocrapha of Jewish and of Christian origin. Apocrapha simply means, “outside the Canon,” as oppposed to the “canonical books” that were approved and make up the 73 books of the Old and New Testaments.

    The Catholic Church’s claim is quite simple—we are not a Bible based church, but rather the Bible itself is anchored deeply within the Church. The Bible is ecclesial (churchical). Catholic theology cannot be “Bible based,” as that would assume that somehow Scripture preceded the Church and formed it. The opposite, of course, is true. Jesus formed the Church when he gathered those who would eventually become his herald and give witness to his resurrection. The Church, his herald and witness, shares the truth about Jesus and his teachings in every generation. This “passing on” of the teachings of Jesus is what we call tradition—from the Latin traditio, which literally means, “to hand on” or to “pass on.” A great example of this is found in 1COR 15:3-4 where St. Paul cites the Old Testament as evidence for what he has himself heard. He says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…”

    When there appears to be a conflict between Scripture and Tradition, then it is only a matter of appearance of conflict as a result of an improper rendering of either sacred tradition or sacred scripture. The magisterium, made up of the college of bishops in union with the pope, is the official interpreter and teacher of the deposit of faith.

    So, all of that to say, the greatest weight in the Catholic Church’s teachings come out of Ecumenical Councils where the bishops around the world gather in union with the pope. That’s a big deal, and the teachings that come out of that gathering with regard to the truths of faith and morals are therefore binding on the Catholic Christian community.

    Finally, (and this is from the heart, I don’t have any ideas what Jesus said, or even less by what he meant with what he said. I was not there. I didn’t hear it, and he never explained it to me. There is no such thing as uninterpreted Scripture. The Bible doesn’t SAY anything. You and I have to believe either our own or someone else’s interpretation and teaching about what it “says” and what it means. That’s as close as we can get. With all respect, I rely not on my own holiness and scholarship with regard to Scripture. I have to trust somebody. That’s why I’m Catholic today. I don’t know who’s ultimately “right” in regard to Jesus’ teachings in total or those found only in Scripture, but the Catholic Church has the most claim to be right. The Bible didn’t fall from the sky. It was compiled by Holy men who sought to preserve for each generation what they knew to be true about their Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. The successors of those men continue to teach and guide the Christian community today, and they are the Catholic bishops of the world led by the vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope.

    Many great evangelists and teachers have appeared and blessed us with their amazing giftedness, holiness, knowledge, and wisdom—but none of them individually trumps the collective giftedness, holiness, knowledge, and wisdom of 2,000 years of bishops and popes in the Catholic Church. And so, Catholic Christian I remain today and forever.

    To conclude, the place of Scripture in the Church is one of great weight and authority because it came out of councils—and all councils since have pointed to Sacred Scripture to stand as a witness to the truthfulness of their teaching. So, while the Catholic Church cannot be Bible-based, the Bible indeed stands witness in every generation to the teachings of the Church. For Catholics, it’s not Bible OR Tradition (councils, encyclicals, theologians, etc.), but rather Bible AND Tradition, as authoritatively interpreted by the Pope and the bishops in union with him.

    Again, sorry so long delayed in my reply. I hope this helps.

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