MEET CHRIST AND LIVE!
translated by J. F. BERNARD
GILL AND MACMILLAN
|1. Loving one's brother today||9. My neighbor and I||17. In the image of God|
|2. If Jesus read today' s newspaper||10. My husband is not a Christian||18. The dead are alive!|
|3. God's children go to school||11. The commercial smile and the Christian smile||19. The age of anguish|
|4. I'm too good a neighbor||12. There is someone among you
you don' t even know
|20. We have too much to do|
|5. I want to be Somebody!||13. There are too many people we just leave asleep||21. It's Christmas at our house|
|6. On God' s track||14. Our little girl is a young woman||22. The Christian in action|
|7. A Father's gifts||15. A miracle tranquillizer||23. My parents are divorced|
|8. Finding my place in the work of creation||16. Houses for the children of God||24. The rediscovery of nature|
I've looked at the world again. I've looked at mankind, and, above all, I've looked at the young. Some people refuse to look at the young. They look away to avoid seeing them, and they stop their ears so as not to hear them. But I look at them, and I listen to them. I might even say that they are my teachers.
I can't deny that young people are sometimes violent, unfair and everything else that their elders say about them. But they have this virtue, that they are capable of going right to the heart of things. They are not concerned with circumlocutions and fine distinctions. Therefore, they force us to see. They shake us out of our habitual complacency and our self-satisfaction with a way of thinking and a life-style which we no longer question sufficiently.
There are many people engaged in studying the problems of the young. Sociologists and psychologists devote themselves to learned analysis, and they are right to do so. But, as a Christian, I believe not that we should ignore such necessary investigations, but that we should go beyond them; that we should study the questions that they raise in a different light-in the light of faith.
Personally, I have done and continue to do a great deal of traveling. I've seen and listened to thousands of young people, individually and collectively. I've met them in developed, over-developed and underdeveloped countries. I've seen them live; I've listened to them express themselves. I've watched their violent demonstrations and their battles in the streets. I've observed them wandering down the dead end streets of drug addiction, sexual excess and blind violence. I've listened to their endless discussions about the building of a new society and of a new man. In the midst of these sounds, or of an uneasy and sometimes agonized silence, I've heard, and I hear still, a great cry. It seems to come from afar at first, then it grows louder and breaks upon one like a storm: the cry of a man being asphyxiated.
Many people can no longer breathe. Their sense of the infinite has been repressed. They are struggling for air. They hunger and thirst for a food and drink they do not know. When they find a spring, they throw themselves upon it; and when a wise man appears, a guru, they fall upon their knees before him. Some discover Jesus. Is he the real Jesus, this Jesus whom politicians and commercial interests are already beginning to claim as their own? I do not know. Is he a sign? Why not? Surely, the Holy Spirit has not lost his power to inspire. In any case, I know for certain that some young people have already found Jesus. And I know that many more are searching for him, and that they all need him. The popular underground poster which reads: WANTED: A MAN CALLED JESUS, is on target.
I've also watched Christian adults. I've observed the way in which they've developed. It goes something like this: At first, many Christians lived, as it were, in the sacristy of the church, and occupied themselves with parish work and parish organizations. At one point, their priests told them that they should go out into the world. There, they were as strangers; and so,- they set about becoming men again so that they could learn to love more perfectly. They followed in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man to save all men. They discovered the world - the world which is progressing, and which often progressed without them in the past. They came to know men who were struggling; and they, in their turn, joined in the struggle, no longer merely at the side of other men, but with them. After a few years, they carne to realize, with their brothers-in-arms, that it was not easy to build a just world, and that even where battles had been won and new structures set up, man remained discouragingly the same and continued to spread the infection of his alienating selfishness.
Some people became discouraged. They began to look back, to doubt the value of their struggle, and then to question it. 'These things', they told themselves, 'are not, after all, the essential ones.' And, with that thought in mind, they withdrew from the world towards God, to whom they thought they had been unfaithful. They moved back into their ghettoes and found 'refuge' in prayer. Their scruples, of course, were merely alibis for worn-out fighters. They hoped to find among their friends, or in the depths of their own hearts, an oasis of peace; and there, they thought, they would encounter an accommodating God who would apply balm to their wounds.
Other people, rather than becoming discouraged by difficulties, were stimulated by them and became obsessed with the idea of saving the world. They were possessed by a mysterious, blind violence and threw themselves, heart and soul, into the battle. And, in so doing, they turned their eyes away from God. At first, they told themselves: 'We'll find God later, after we've won.' But later, they concluded: 'This is man's affair. It has nothing to do with God.'
Still others have refused to leave the battlefield and their companion-in-arms. They have also refused to fight without the God who sent them, and without the Christ who preceded them. They know that it is together, and only together, that the whole victory will be won. Therefore, they struggle with all their might not to lose sight of Jesus Christ. They know that he is alive; that he is risen; that he is working at their side in the world and in the hearts of men. But it is hard to see Jesus when no one else sees him.
Thus, we believe that many young people, in the midst of their searchings and worryings, their errors and rebellions, are reaching out to a Christ whom they do not know and have never met. What we must do is to reveal to them Jesus Christ, who is living among them.
We think too that many Christians have finally discovered Jesus Christ in their lives and in their actions. But, as we said earlier, some of them lose contact with him and then withdraw timidly from the world. Others also lose sight of him, but shrug, and continue to do battle. Still others have held firm and remain in their Father' s field, with their elder Brother who is before them in the breach. These latter are often tired and hungry, because man is not yet accustomed to living with Jesus in his whole life. In this respect, comparatively few priests have been of real help. They have not been trained to offer such help, as we have often written and said. And yet, this is at the heart of a priest' s work.
Jesus, the real Jesus, is waiting for us in life; yet, we pass him by without seeing him. We must learn to meet him, to think with him, to speak with him, and to act with him. The world is filled with talk of revolution, but there is only one true Revolution: that which will make all things new, beginning with the heart of man, in the depths of himself which man himself cannot reach, and then extending to the least and the greatest of our economic, political and social structures until it affects the whole universe. This Revolution cannot be realized without man. It cannot be realized without God. But it can be realized only by man in Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus came into the world, yesterday and today, for that single purpose.
We have always tried to help our brothers live with Jesus. Perhaps a quick look at our past books will help to make clear the purpose of the present work.
The theme of Aimer ou le journal de Dany and also of With love, Anne Marie (1) was that an adolescent does not become first an adult and then an adult Christian but should grow simultaneously as a human and as a Christian. That is, boys and girls should grow with Christ.
In The Christian Response, I stressed that if a man wants to develop at all levels, if he wants to live and to commit himself effectively, he must live this great adventure with Jesus and in Jesus.
Prayers of Life aimed at showing that to live our lives with Jesus presupposes that we are in constant conversation with him in our daily lives.
In Christ is Alive I tried to answer the questions: Why is Jesus Christ present in the world? How? In what respect is faith a commitment to live Jesus' mystery of Creation and redeeming Incarnation with him?
And in the series, Visages du Christ, (2) instances were given of how today men live with Jesus in all walks of life, in all circumstances, at all ages. This is the Community of Witnesses, the mystery of the living Christ.
Here, I would like to describe a few practical exercises in living with Christ. Each chapter of this book is composed of the description of an event or situation, of a few reflections in the light of faith, and, finally of a short prayer.
All examples are inadequate, and mine are no exception.
They do not form a coherent whole, and they are not arranged according to any definite plan. I could as easily have chosen other events and situations, made other reflections, prayed other prayers. Perhaps the sole merit of those included in this book are that they are not exercises of the imagination. I have always tried to avoid imagining life. They are all bits and pieces taken from real life.
It was not I alone who undertook the task of re-examining life in the light of faith so as to discover the presence of the risen Christ. I did so, sometimes with one other person, sometimes with a single household, sometimes with a whole group of Christians. The result is this book, in which I have set down some of the things we discovered together, and some of our prayers. Obviously, I have done some editing and I have rearranged the material so as to include reflections from various sessions under one heading when they apply to the subject under discussion.
Another weakness of these 'practical exercise' is that they are incomplete. It would have been impossible for me to include all the possible reactions of the people I've worked with, their experiences while searching for Jesus, their discoveries, their gradual recognition of the presence of Christ, the development of their insights and their attitudes. All I can do here is suggest a few paths for the reader to follow and to go beyond. That is what it is all about. The lives of individuals and of groups are not stereotyped. Every man is different; and when Jesus issues an invitation, it is a very personal invitation. In that sense, this book should be read and then forgotten. If it can lead a few Christians to the spot where Jesus is waiting silently for them, at the center of their lives; if it can help them to recognize Jesus; if it can inspire them to encounter him and join him in his work of saving 'the whole man and the whole of mankind', then I will be satisfied.
1. Loving one's brother today
Our group discussion on the obligation of loving our brothers, and on how to do so at the practical level, was based on the gospel of St Matthew and on the Last Judgment. A month earlier, we had chosen St Matthew's gospel as our subject for personal meditation. When we got together to discuss our individual thoughts, there was a heated discussion. We came to realize that some of us, despite our 'commitment', had never gone beyond a very limited concept of charity. We were all aware of the importance of being solicitous for our neighbor's welfare, of exercising care in our interpersonal relationships, of giving ourselves totally to others. The social dimension of charity, however, the love of others through organizations and movements, seemed to be beyond the competence of faith, although we were willing enough to take it into account in practice. We therefore listened as Jesus explained again, in today's terms, the unconditional commandment of love.
You must love your brothers. That is an absolute requirement of our religion. 'Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?' . . . 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself' (Matt. 22: 36-40).
Jesus was not talking about advice, but about a commandment.
The love of our brothers is an infallible test of our love of God. 'Anyone who says, "I love God," and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen' (I John 4: 20).
To love our brothers does not mean that we must love them with our emotions, or that we must be 'sentimental' about them, for Jesus commands us to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44). To love our brothers means that we must wish for their true good, and that we must do all that we can with them to obtain that good. This requires an effort which presupposes total self-forgetfulness.
'This has taught us love - that he gave up his life for us; and we, too, ought to give up our lives for our brothers... My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active; only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth' (I John 3: 16-19).
To love our brothers does not necessarily mean to please them. Far from it. Nor does it mean that we must make a systematic effort to have them love us. On the contrary, it means that we must be capable, if necessary, of making them suffer for their own good. Therefore, we must sometimes be willing to fight them, individually and collectively.
It is on the basis of this concrete love, expressed in our actions, on the basis of this gift to others, even at the risk of misunderstandings and persecutions, that we will be judged. We must re-read in St Matthew how Christ himself describes the Last Judgment: ' ... I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you carne to see me ... I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me' (Matt. 25: 35-40).
What does it mean today, to feed the hungry? Does it mean to invite the old lady next door to supper, or to collect cans of condensed milk for the underdeveloped countries?
Yes, it means those things; but, more than that, it means to work in every agency to which we have access (trade unions, political parties and all the innumerable social groups to which we belong) for a decent living-wage for all, for fair prices, for job opportunities, for unemployment compensation, for pension plans, for job-training and so forth.
We know that the body can feel hunger, and we must come to recognize that the spirit can also be hungry. To feed the hungry spirit today means to work for equal education for all, equal opportunities, decent schools and effective curricula.
To make strangers welcome means, as it always has, to open one' s home to others; but it means above all to fight for decent housing for the poor, and for housing allowances. It means to participate in tenant organizations, to organize recreation for young people in housing developments.
Visiting the sick means precisely that. But it also means fighting for increased benefits for the sick, and for the improvement of medical facilities, and it means supporting medical research to the extent that one is able.
Actually to visit the inmates of a prison is a work of mercy; but it is a greater work of mercy to work for a penal system which will reform and educate the prisoners, and for organizations which help freed convicts; to encourage programmes of education and re-education in the cities and throughout the country; to participate in crime-prevention and job-finding projects; to take an active interest in the formation of specialist educators and in the organization of their unions.
It is also many other things. It is fighting against anything which imprisons man - that is, fighting on behalf of and alongside all those who are deprived of their freedom, from individuals who are the victims of their own fears to the underprivileged who are the collective prisoners of unjust economic, social and political structures.
Given the 'creeping socialism' of the modern world, human life has become more and more dependent upon those structures - so much so that it is now almost impossible to say that we truly love our brothers unless we are willing to participate in the creation of new structures, or in the transformation or reform of existing structures so as to obtain their greatest possible good.
'Charitable acts' can be misleading. They may allow us to believe that we are charitable. But, in fact, unless we are willing to take love seriously enough to make a reasonable and humanly effective commitment to the transformation of society, we risk falling under the judgment of God: 'Go away from me, with your curse upon you . . . For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me' (Matt. 25: 41-44).
There are men who teach, or allow others to believe, that a man can be saved if he merely observes the rules of sexual morality and the laws of the Church. Such men are either ignorant or dishonest.
Certainly, it is a good thing to help priests in their work by participating in parish activities and to be an active member of a Christian movement. It is good, but it is not enough, for it does not necessarily involve a commitment. Such activities, laudable as they are, do not dispense a man from serving his brothers in the world, for it is in the world that we have been placed by God' s providence; and it is in the world that Christ awaits us.
To choose the form which our commitment will take means to take into account both our own talents and the needs of our brothers and of society, and then to go out to meet the Father halfway, in the midst of that society and those structures in which we spend our lives.
The choice of commitments must be a reasonable one.
We cannot do everything, but we must do whatever we can; and we must do it in a spirit of faith.
It is true that it also requires a commitment to the world in order for one to belong to a parent-teacher association, or to a union, or to a political party, or to an agency of student-government, or even to a social club. But it is also true that it requires a temporal commitment to feed the hungry and clothe the naked-and these are the things which Jesus solemnly stated were the express condition of our salvation.
The commitment of a Christian differs essentially from that of a non-Christian because of the faith which a Christian brings to bear on the end to be accomplished and, sometimes, by the means which he adopts. The end is Jesus, whom a man loves and serves by serving his brothers. He says, in effect: 'I love my neighbor as myself for love of Jesus.'
The means also take on a particular significance for the Christian, for he never forgets that, beyond and through the structures with which he deals, there are persons who must be liberated individually and collectively.
He does not manipulate these persons. Rather, he acts with them. He fights out of love, and not in the hope of a personal return for his efforts, or for purely material reasons, or out of rebelliousness, resentment or hate.
We should keep in mind, none the less, that a man who truly loves his brothers by working for them at the worldly level, loves God without knowing it, even though he has never encountered Jesus. In such a case, Christians should not try to claim a non-believer as one of their own. Instead, they should thank God for the love shown by the non believer.
We Christians, because we know what is involved, are privileged creatures. We also bear a double responsibility.
Why should we institutionalize our charity by participating in the work of those agencies and movements which are working for the common good? Because Jesus Christ asks us to love our brothers, and because loving our brothers today-without forgetting that they are persons-very often means creating and implementing structures at every level which will enable them to grow in justice and in love.
We are obliged to go to the very end in love of our brothers, but with the minds and hearts of men saved by Christ and living in him: 'I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.'
Lord, you are making my life very complicated!
Your commandment, 'you shall love the Lord your God' would have been much easier to obey,
if only you hadn't coupled it with another one, similar to it: 'You must love your neighbors.'
To love them all,
All of the time -
That's not easy, Lord.
Even so, I thought I had done it.
I thought I was a good Christian and 'charitable to my neighbors'. Everyone thought I was
And now, you tell me that it was not enough.
And you even tell me that perhaps, sometimes, it was wrong!
It's hard, Lord, to love a neighbor that I can see;
But it's even harder to love one that I cannot see
to work for brothers I do not know,
and who do not know me;
to fight alongside them, for them,
against structures, and for structures
which themselves are not my brothers
but which make or unmake my brothers.
I would have preferred to have had a protégé of my very own, someone who needed my help,
On my very own road leading from Jerusalem to Jericho. Someone well cared for,
And perhaps a bit spoiled,
And in good health.
But the road from Jerusalem to Jericho has got
longer and longer, and now it leads to the ends of the earth.
In fact, there are many such roads, all intersecting;
they cover mankind, they stretch out into rime,
into what is and what is to be.
Lord, I am on my own small road now. I am moving forward, step by step.
One of my hands is for one brother; the other, for another.
I am too slow and too small to love all my brothers.
I am going to join the army of those who are fighting And who, however painfully, in their organizations and their movements, their meetings and their encounters and their battles,
Are trying to build a world, Lord, in which man, free, will be able finally to love.
I am available, Lord,
I am available, brothers, even though I don't know who you are.
1. Newman Press, New York 1968.
2. Freedom to Starve by Paul Gallet, Gill and Macmillan 1970 (Penguin edition 1972 in Pelican Latin American Library) is the first of this series to be available in English translation. Consisting of the letters and diary notes of a French missionary priest in poverty-stricken north-east Brazil, it tells how he spends himself in laboring for 'the revolution of love' among people almost defeated by the horrifying conditions of their daily life.