“Without having seen him, you love him”
Recently, I wrote about the powerful effect made by the images of the Pope during his visit to the States. I drew particular attention to his meeting with children suffering from disabilities and to his encounter with survivors and family members at Ground Zero. Indelible images for those who witnessed them.
But the challenge now before the Church in the United States is to ponder and take to heart the rich texts he has left us. Peter Nixon in his post, “Veritas,” (below) has insightfully initiated this meditation. Now Peter Steinfels, in today’s New York Times, offers his own reflection.
Steinfels’ thoughtful and respectful column requires careful reading. But here is his conclusion:
Will addressing the God crisis, perhaps with the pastoral sensitivity Benedict demonstrated on his visit, spontaneously generate responses to the church crisis? Or is addressing the structural dimension of the church crisis a prerequisite to successfully addressing the God crisis?
The lasting impact of Pope Benedict’s visit may hang on the answers to those two questions.
What I find myself pondering, however, is a third “crisis” which may actually underlie the two which Peter identifies. Call it “the Jesus crisis.”
One cannot read a homily or a pastoral address of the Holy Father without sensing that the proclamation of Jesus as “Lord and Messiah” is the very heart of his message. Let one example, from his address in Washington to the Representatives of other religions, suffice:
Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue.
But Benedict does not merely bear witness to this. He, in season and out of season, invites Christians to enter into ever-deeper relation with their Savior. Again, but one example — from his address to young people at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie:
Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.
We can argue ceaselessly about why there is something rather than nothing or about the ultimate foundation for human rights. We can passionately debate structural reform in the Church. But in the quiet hours of early morning or late night do we not ultimately wrestle with the question: do I love him?
In the New Testament, a rich, but sometimes neglected text is the First Letter of Peter. We are, of course, reading it during this Easter Season at Sunday Eucharist. Peter joyfully exults in the faith of his (newly baptized?) hearers: “Without having seen him, you love him!” (1 Pet 1:8).
Is Peter’s successor posing this to us as a question: “Without having seen him, do you love him?”
If so, the Lord himself provides the precedent: “Simon Peter: Do you love me?” Peter, dense like us, had to be asked three times (Jn 21:15-19).