Cold and Hot

Cold and Hot

A VERY good number of parishioners from all over the Archdiocese of Cebu attended a concert by a well-known singer on Feb. 10. This was a fund-raiser for the St. John Paul II home for retired priests. While the sultry singer herself was certainly a strong draw, I suspect the intended beneficiaries were an even greater reason why many people came and shelled out money that would have been dinner for three at a fancy restaurant. It felt good to see that people have a special place in their hearts for their priests.

A priest-friend from India once told me: “Carmelo, if ever I would be reborn, I would like to be a Filipino priest since Filipinos love their priests.” Although he said this tongue in cheek, the comment was not mere flattery nor bereft of truth. My friend may have seen how OFWs care for their priests who celebrate Sunday Masses for them.

Yet, reality is not so straightforward. Warm welcome is not always the rule. Sometimes the Church is met with a cold stare. Or does so itself.

In my last column, I quoted the haunting words of the great theologian, Romano Guardini: “Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world (Matt. 23:12), but the more precious will that love be which flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ.”

Loneliness. Disappearance of love. In his 2018 Lenten message, Pope Francis chose a theme from Matthew 24:12: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold”. He then compares Matthew’s image of deep cardiac freeze to a scene from hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy picturing “the devil seated on a throne of ice in frozen and loveless isolation.”

Pope Francis then asks how love can grow cold in us. He cites “greed for money” which is soon followed by the “rejection of God and his peace”. Then comes “violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own ‘certainties’: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations.” This then leads to the destruction of creation when “the earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest”.

Even our Christian communities can grow cold. Here Pope Francis recalls his insights in Evangelii Gaudium 82: “Selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances.” These douse the living flame of love in us and weaken our missionary zeal, if I may paraphrase the Pope’s concerns.

Pope Francis is not satisfied with generalities. He gives specific examples of how love grows cold in our Christian communities. He uses the words “selfishness and spiritual sloth” to describe common realities in parishes. For example, he writes: “The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable.” This may describe a knee-jerk response to certain social and pastoral realities. Are we just reacting to them or do we pause—prayerfully discern—before we say or do things? Or have we become just part of the noise in the public space? Are we really helping emerge a spirituality of social transformation that is not only faith-impelled but inspired by God’s love?

An antidote to this noise-driven activism may be found in the wise words of the late Gerald May, author of the landmark book Addiction and Grace, in another one of his works trying to blend psychology and spirituality:

“We are so busy, so occupied with many little things, that we are blind to the one great thing. Only in the pauses between things, in the brief contemplative spaces of just being, can we catch a glimpse of love itself. Even then, we often feel so unfree that we think we are unworthy of love…Time and time again we ignore the invitations and fill the spaces immediately, dulling our consciousness with drivenness. But love continues, hoping to catch us in a willing moment. Thousands of little spaces come each day. They exist between each choice we make and the next, after each thought is completed and before the next begins, between each breath and the next, in every hunger or wanting, whenever something wakes us up to presence…” (The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love You Need).

Yes, we need these pauses to warm us with the living flame of God’s love. Without them, “work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue…” (Evangelii Gaudium 82)

It is no surprise that one of the three key elements of New Evangelization is “new ardor”.