Understanding Our Loving
First for Fiji
issue carries an
imprimatur from the
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Robert F. Morneau
story: I recently visited the second grade at one of our Catholic
schools. The little geniuses knew every answer as I drilled them about
the characters in the movie The Lion King. "Who was Scar?"
"Simba's uncle!" they cried out. "Who was Nala?" Their reply: "Simba's
girlfriend!" "And who was the great warthog?" Again the correct answer:
built up their confidence and mine, I turned to matters of religion:
Jesus, the apostles, the commandments, the Eucharist. We concluded
our time together by praying the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary. About
to leave the halls of learning, I asked if anyone had a question for
me. Little Harry, sitting in the last desk, raised his hand and with
great innocence asked: "Hey, Father, how much do you know about God?"
Some years ago I began collecting poetry that spoke of God. Gerard
Manley Hopkins's "God's Grandeur" and George Herbert's "Trinity Sunday"
and Jessica Powers's "God Is a Strange Lover" are all in my folder.
There is one stanza from a poem that is at the top of the pile. It
comes from Father Gordon Gilsdorf's "Lyrics for the Christian." It
simply and directly strikes home:
To fathom "Bethlehem"
And "Calvary." It
In The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris states: "Music is serious
theology." Songs carry our theology and have a tendency to sink deeply
into the soul. We have a rich treasure of music in our Catholic tradition.
One of my favorites is the refrain: "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus
ibi est." ("Where charity and love are, there is God.")
much do we know about God?
here is not reserved for theological scholars; nor is it without practical
significance. Our faith tells us that we are made to God's image and
likeness. To know who God is, then, is to know who we are. The reverse
is also true: Not to know God is not to know ourselves. Ignorance
of the nature of God means that we will not come to self-knowledge.
The second-grader's question has impact on the very meaning of our
imagined in many ways. For some, God is a severe judge whose wrath
and justice cause great fear and trembling. Others see God as a distant
deity who began this world but left it on its own. Still others maintain
that the second-grader's question cannot be answeredwe cannot know
God. The more arrogant hold that there is no God.
Paul II has called the Church to prepare for the new millennium by
growing in our faith and knowledge of God by pondering the mysteries
of the Trinity and the Incarnation. We do this with much humility,
conscious of the limits of our intelligence and the inadequacy of
language in dealing with things divine. The God-Reality is always
greater than our finite propositions and human concepts. Albert Schweitzer's
line is worth pondering: "The highest knowledge is to know that we
are surrounded by mystery."
is triune: a loving Creator, a merciful Redeemer, a providential Spiritone
God, three persons. Our God brought us into this muddy existence,
came among us in the person of Jesus to set us free from sin and death
and continues to guide us still through the Pentecost gift of the
us has a threefold relationship with God, a relationship that elicits
a variety of responses. Praise is fitting as we contemplate the mystery
of creation that stirs up in us a sense of wonder and awe. Gratitude
flows from the heart of those who see the extravagance of God made
present and manifest in Jesus' dying for our redemption. Joy and commitment
arise when we become convinced of God's indwelling Spirit, filling
us with grace and calling us forth to be joyful ambassadors of God's
mercy and love in a broken world.
passion of Jesus we come to know the mystery of God in a new and powerful
way. Jesus, Son of God, the Word made flesh, took upon himself our
human nature. As both human and divine he lived our life, tasted our
food, experienced our sun, saw our stars, embraced our human suffering
and death. It was the fullness of his love, compassion and forgiveness
that brought about the transformation of our world. Jesus is the light
to all nations, the love revealing the Father's glory, the life we
now know in the Spirit.
of the Trinity and Incarnation is overwhelming for the eight-year-old
second-grader and for the 80-year-old theologian. But then we humans
have difficulty in understanding the flight of a meteor, the song
of a lark. Our knowledge, so wonderful in its small brilliance, is
always confronted by mystery and is challenged to say "yes" to God
through the luminous darkness of faith.
statement regarding the mystery of God comes from the first epistle
of John: "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" (1 John 4:7-8).
any dictionary of theology and one will find thousands of words to
describe the reality of God. To limit God's lexicon to a single term
seems rather strange, certainly inadequate. In fact, one might imagine
that more and more words and concepts must be used or constructed
to express ultimate Reality. Yet we come back to "God is love" and
the claim that this word is sufficient to tell the tale of Bethlehem
and Calvarythe birth and death of God-made-manand to communicate
the gift of the Spirit.
like a prism which seems to take gracethe self-giving of Godand
break it into a variety of rays. In the face of suffering, love appears
as "compassion." In the face of sin and alienation, love is made manifest
in "mercy." When fear and anxieties overwhelm the human spirit, love
comes to it as "trust." And the list goes on.
something to do with giving, caring, kindness. St. Paul lists qualities
of love in one of the great hymns of the Church: "Love is patient,
love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not
inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is
not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice
over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things,
believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor.
13:4-7). Here is the vision for living a Christian moral life. We
image our God as we live a life of love. Then we will be a light to
attributed to the very essence of God has nothing to do with romanticism.
Rather, it is a strong, indeed tough love because it is rooted in
truth, a truth so profound as to set us free and call us to justice.
We begin to sense that love has a family system: truth, freedom, justice.
This love resembles the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which God rules
in our individual hearts and our larger society.
At a recent
retreat, one of the participants said that "[S]ervice is nothing other
than love in work clothes." My imagination pictured Jesus washing
the feet of the disciples, the mystery of God-Love serving his creatures.
The mission of Jesusto serve and not be servedis the task of the
Church, the community of disciples. The image of God sitting upon
a throne looking for homage from a subservient people clashes with
the revelation given us in the person of Jesus. God's royal garments
are coarse work clothes.
that explains Bethlehem and Calvary also explains the great love moments
of our sacramental life. Love wants to visit, love wants to be present
as a sign of concern. So this Christian God keeps breaking into our
lives when a baby is baptized, when children receive first Communion
and Reconciliation, when the Spirit comes in Confirmation, when commitments
for life are made, when sickness and death need divine strength and
courage. Love "goes where the suffering is" and, yes, where joy is,
too. God is love, present and manifest in signs and symbols and nature
love is not coercive. Gifted with freedom, we can turn away from the
divine mystery. When choices are made that alienate and divide, we
enter the realm of darkness and death. At this juncture God's love
"seems" like wrath or anger. In reality, God, who is love, is always
compassionate and filled with light and life. We need but "turn around"
(repent), to experience once again, in freedom, the source of all
peace and joy.
than the darkness
is God?" is a valid question. Throughout history, but never so dramatically
as in our century scarred by the Holocaust, individuals and nations
have raised the question of God's whereabouts in the face of horrendous
suffering. Evil is a fact. The greatest human minds have not been
able to explain this dark enigma. Explanations proposedmisused
freedom, our radical animality, etc.have all been given and
have been found wanting.
asserts that wherever there is charity and love, we are in the presence
of God. Faith asserts that God came among us, experienced evil from
within the walls of history and rose above it. How deep and extravagant
is God's love for us!
poet Jessica Powers specified that the volume of her selected poems
should end with a verse praising the three-person God of unconditional
and extravagant love. There is no better way to conclude this essay
than by quoting her:
fills my being to the brim
floods of His immensity.
drown within a drop of Him
sea-bed is infinity.
Father's will is everywhere
chart and chance His precept keep.
are no beaches to His care
cliffs to pluck from His deep.
The Son is never far away from me
for presence is what love compels.
Divinely and incarnately
He draws me where His mercy dwells.
And lo, myself am the abode
of Love, the third of the Triune,
the primal surge and sweep of God
and my eternal claimant soon!
Praise to the Father and the Son
and to the Spirit! May I be,
O Water, Wave and Tide in One,
Thine animate doxology.*
Robert F. Morneau is auxiliary bishop and vicar general of the Diocese
of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is the author of 11 books, including Paths
to Prayer and A Retreat With Jessica Powers: Loving a Passionate
God, both from St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Selected Poetry of Jessica Powers, Regina Siegfried and Robert
Morneau, eds., copyright ©1989 Carmelite Monastery, Pewaukee,
WI; used with permission of Sheed and Ward.)
an angel sent by God, who loves you very much. He wants you
to know that you are not alone."
Each Sunday night,
millions of TV viewers, many of them families eagerly seeking
wholesome entertainment, hear actress Roma Downey deliver the
lines which have made her a beloved and familiar figure to so
many. As Monica, the caseworker angel in Touched by an Angel,
her job is to bring a message of comfort and hope to the principal
character in that week's show. The struggle that person faces
differs from week to week, ranging from family estrangement
to destructive behavior, life-threatening illness, financial
ruin or any number of life issues. But each Sunday night, Monica
offers a message that leaves the character, and many in the
viewing audience, convinced of the presence of God in their
Roma Downey acknowledges
that Touched by an Angel is sentimental. But for her
the show goes beyond feeling to the conviction "that there is
a God and that God loves you."
best actress in a drama by TV Guide readers, Ms. Downey
accepted the award not only as an individual but as a member
of the show's entire cast. "I am very proud to be part of a
show that has the power to touch people's lives in such a positive
way with a message of hope and love," she said. She also offered
special praise to producer Martha Williamson for her "amazing
words that inspire us every week."
A native of Derry,
Northern Ireland, Roma Downey was raised in the 1970's in a
strong Catholic family that provided a protective environment.
Outside, however, Northern Ireland's civil war was heating up.
The actress, who turns 36 this month, has clear memories of
crouching behind cars during gun battles in the streets and
being evacuated because of bomb scares. "I grew up in an environment
where people were killing each other in the name of religion,"
she recalls. Such experiences, she believes, have reinforced
the importance of being involved in a show "that embraces the
Though she occasionally
yearns to stretch her actor's wings and move beyond the angelic
Monica, Ms. Downey shares a sense of mission with her fellow
cast members on Touched by an Angel, which consistently
conveys the message that "God is love."*
by Judy Ball
First for Fiji
is almost certain to be standing room only at the midnight Mass
December 31, 1999, at Holy Cross Church on the Fijian island
of Taveuni in the South Pacific. As the Catholic Church closest
to the international date line, Holy Cross will have the distinction
of offering the first Mass of the third millennium.
one of about 100 inhabited islands that make up Fiji, claims
14,000 inhabitantsalmost half of whom belong to the parish.
The tiny island also claims a large white cross which tourists
can spot from afar. The cross is located almost precisely on
the 180th meridian, also known as the international date line.
As such, it is the point internationally recognized as where
the day begins.
cross also figures in the religious history of the island, most
of whose inhabitants are Catholic. In 1863 the people of the
island defeated the invading Tongans and were subsequently converted
to Catholicism by a French Marist priest. The introduction of
Christianity brought an end to cannibalism, polygamy and various
practices considered superstitious.*