When my office was in the city of Paterson years ago, I was driving from it one very hot day, passing through one of its poorest sections. My car windows were open, the air conditioner not yet on. Traffic came to a dead stop as I hugged the curb on my right. Not even 10 feet away from me, there sat on a tenement stoop, almost at sidewalk level, two ragged, weather-beaten, apparently homeless persons, a man and a woman, undoubtedly looking even older than their actual, advanced age. Oblivious to everyone and everything around them, the man was handing to the woman a small, bright red, flat object, which I recognized to be a Sacred Heart badge. She took it into her own unwashed hands, kissed it with her eyes closed, and responded, in a tone of tenderness and sincerity that I will never forget, “Oh, Jesus!”
Are such moments of grace for the beholder – me, in that case – merely coincidental, or are they somehow planned for our good? Who knows? For me this one was a gift I have kept and treasured all these years. Those two nameless persons were experiencing the love of God breaking through the otherwise impenetrable shell of their squalor and hopelessness. For one brief, shining moment they were engaging the One in whom their future would be redeemed, the One who alone could undo all the tragedy of their otherwise wasted lives, the One who would make of them what they always wanted to be and could not achieve.
Jesus constantly emphasized the primacy of love. In fact, as you well know, he said there is but one law, and that is to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. Exposed, as we are both day and night, to an endless parade of horror stories from around the world, is it really possible for us to get excited at, or even interested in, the idea of God’s powerful love? It is not only possible, it is necessary and highly advantageous, because otherwise we retreat from the real world into cocoons of selfish indulgence or we go mad with despair. The universe has been in existence for an astoundingly long time, over 14 billion years, we are told; we humans and our ancestors have been on Planet Earth for the comparatively tiny period of a few million years. The Divine Spirit that has created everything from nothing can certainly bring that creation, so much abused by us humans, to perfection – but only in the time frame that we are willing to grant.
We Americans were told to feel proud of our might when the 1990 Gulf War was so decisively won. We are encouraged to marvel at our technological achievements. In one way that’s very appropriate: the sight of a jumbo jet carrying 500 persons across continents and oceans should make our hearts skip a beat. The almost incredible announcement of a computer chip the size of a thumb tack that can store the entire contents of a small library should take our breath away. These are, in the biblical sense, true miracles. But the problem is that we are inclined to make idols of them instead of seeing them for what they really are: manifestations of the intelligence of the God-Creator, who does all things in, and out of, love.
God is love, St. John wrote. Love is the power that creates and sustains the universe. It isn’t machines or weapons or songs or politics or money. It’s love and love alone. It is our appointed destiny to live in love, to do nothing except in love, and to cherish love above everything.