Monday, August 26, 2013

A Conviction to Love - Augustine and Mother Teresa

Words preached by Augustine 1600 years ago have recently become a rich source of conviction and challenge to me. In this collection of homilies on 1 John, Augustine simplifies the believers' task to one aim - the call to love your brother. It sounds simple, but it carries much weight. This IS the fruit of knowing God. If we do not love our brother, we are no different from the demons who proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. Faith without love is dead, and love without action is mere words.

Simultaneously, and quite randomly,  I have been reading a biography on Mother Teresa - a little Catholic nun who made it her mission to love "the poorest of the poor" in the world. She held the conviction that "if there were poor in the world it was not because God had made them poor but because you and I do not share enough."The depth of her self-denial and sacrifice unsettled me. But she understood the fruit of her sacrifice, "God has shown His greatness by using nothingness- so let us always remain in our nothingness- so as to give God free hand to use us without consulting us." Her life reads as a beautiful example of Augustine's call to love.

But how can I possibly live out the type of love that 1 John demands?  How does God grow this fruit in my life? Both Mother Teresa and Augustine offer a suggestion:

"If you want to write letters," said Mother Teresa, "you have to practice on a typewriter first; same thing - you want to give love to others, first, give love to your own children, your husband, your wife."

And from Augustine, "How does charity begin, brother? You have heard how charity is perfected, 'Greater charity no one has than to lay down his life for his friends' (John 15:13). When can we have this charity? Don't be quick to lose hope for yourself... nurse it so that it won't be smothered. 'But he who had the goods of the world and saw his brother hungry and closed his heart to him - how will God's love be able to abide in him? (1 John 3:17)' This is where charity begins. If you aren't yet ready to die for your brother, be ready to give of your goods to your brother... For, if you can't give what is superfluous to your brother, how can you lay down your life for your brother?"

Both offer a simple place to start. Sadly, even these acts of love are so often neglected by us believers. We all (from the weakest to the Saints) must pray for God's help. We must pray that His love will find a pathway through our lives to touch the world.