Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

Peace Be With You

"The Orthodoxy of Love"

by Bishop Blase J. Cupich

(From the March 21, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

“Orthodoxy” in the context of faith literally means the correct or right way of praising God. Yet, it is often misused. Sometimes people or movements in a given Church self-define their particular narrow view of things as the only orthodox, that is, faithful, position, which can be held, thereby dismissing those who disagree with them.

Nearly a dozen years ago, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote what some consider to be his finest Apostolic Letter, At the Beginning of the New Millennium. It is noteworthy that the late Holy Father referred to orthodoxy only once on that occasion. He did so in the context of urging each Christian and each Christian community to demonstrate “a commitment to practical and concrete love for every human being.” It is by Christ’s words, calling us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned, “no less than by the orthodoxy of her doctrine, that the Church measures her fidelity as the Bride of Christ.” The message is clear. The test of our orthodoxy, or fidelity as Christians, must include our practice of the corporal works of mercy.

This season of Lent is a time to measure our fidelity, our orthodoxy as Christians. The penitential practices of prayer, fasting and giving alms to the needy serve as measuring rods for us to gauge our spiritual lives and reveal to us how we need to correct or straighten out our crooked ways. But, then again, all of these acts must be done with love.

The science of dentistry provides us with a helpful analogy. An orthodontist uses braces or other appliances to correctly align crooked teeth. At the same time, he takes for granted that the patient, through proper oral hygiene and dental care, will encourage the natural healing powers of the body in the whole process. If this does not happen, then all of the orthodontist’s efforts to correct a bite or uneven teeth are for naught. In the end the teeth may be straight, but infection below the surface may set it. Then it becomes a matter of “your teeth are ok, but now your gums have to come out.”

The efforts we make as part of our Lenten sacrifices all need to aim at promoting the internal forces of healing our soul, which is love. We discover that love is the force moving us to do these external acts when they lead us to a joyful spirit, and a sense of peace about our lives.

Contrarily, these sacrificial acts are of little use if in our fasting we are grumpy; if our donations to the poor excuse us from being generous with people when it comes to our time and attention; if our prayer fails to deepen our love of God and appreciation for all the graces in life; and if our sacrifices for the stranger abroad are betrayed by the estrangement we feel toward those in our homes.

In all of these cases, we are missing the point. St. Paul says it so well in his First Letter to the Corinthians: if I speak like the angels, if I have the gifts of prophesy and understanding, if I have faith to move mountains, if I give away all that I possess, if I give my body to be burned, I am nothing if I do not love.

His words continue to haunt us, reminding us not to become overly confident or self-righteous.

They are reminders that without love, the full impact and power of Christ’s Resurrection to make us a new creation has not been realized, for our spiritual lives are not being realigned. The braces of penitence may have some temporary effect on our external behavior (like moving teeth!), but in the end they will not lead to the spiritual healing and new life we need.

What Blessed John Paul II is suggesting to us about the orthodoxy of love is much like what Blessed Cardinal Newman said nearly 150 years ago when speaking about Lent. Amid all the practices and acts of penance during this season, he notes that, in the end, we are left with one single question: How are we to learn, not merely to obey, but to love? That will be the test of our ability to give witness to the Resurrection, as it was for St. Peter, when Jesus asked him just one question after he rose from the dead: Do you love me?

Both the Holy Father and Cardinal Newman seem to be saying that orthodoxy surely requires obedience, but even more so and first of all, it requires love – for without it, we are nothing at all.



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