Two preliminary observations
a – Since I am speaking as a Catholic, I would like to state that my speech stems from a declaration of faith that attests: Jesus is my Master.
b – Consequently, I have borrowed the theme for my presentation from the Gospel of St John (13:34), where Jesus tells His disciples: A new commandment I give unto you.” (see also Lev. 19:18). With this affirmation, combined with Deut. 5, Jesus Christ revives the essence of the Mosaic Law (see also Mt 22:37-39), namely the fundamental principle of that Law, which Jesus came to accomplish and not to abolish (Mat. 5:17).
The novelty of this lesson
Whereas the directives of Moses are supported by the Law, Jesus bases all His lessons on love, as He practices Himself: “as I have loved you”. Jesus demonstrates a very unique confidence towards his disciples whom He calls His friends. He washes their feet (Jn 13, 1-20). In His brothers and friends, Jesus also confides himself. He invites them to serve others as He has taught them: “No servant is greater than his master.” (John 13:16). The disciples enjoy an intimate friendship with the Lord Jesus.
This Lord shows the same confidence towards us. He wishes to establish with us the same profound relationship that He had with His disciples. Moreover, He invites us to continue His work. Do we realize that He counts on us, in great measure, to be His intermediaries, so that through us, His message will reach the generations in the world today? This is our vocation! With Jesus Christ, this commandment is not limited to this or that nation. It must reach all of humanity. It must touch the hearts of all men, through our testimony. Jesus counts on us. This love that He personally commands will be the only one to build world peace and the only one to construct unity between men.
The One whom Paul met on the road to Damascus constitutes the only path to follow to change our ways and to convert to the One who is the way, the truth and the life. Yes, this way, this truth and this life are not different from the person who resurrected and conquered death. This unexpected encounter between Paul and the Lord on the road to Damascus completely changed the life of Saul and all of his hostile projects. It was not a conversion of moral, psychological or disciplinary order, but rather it was an upheaval of spiritual order and, consequently, also of existential order. It was the entire life of Saul which was seized by Christ. And Paul explains how this encounter fills him completely. What Paul wanted to be finds its truth within the One who shows Himself to Paul. From that truth, which became for Paul a reality, Paul was able to affirm that all that he was, he considered as lost, because of this good which surpassed all others: that of knowing Christ His Lord (v.8). This knowledge of Christ constructed a communion with Him. Saul offers himself to Christ and accepts that he will depend on Him and even acknowledges His supremacy over his entire life. In his encounter with the Resurrected Jesus, Paul experiences the new man.
It is a matter, therefore, of recognizing the risen Christ and the power of His resurrection, of becoming one with His suffering and becoming like Him in His death (v. 10). This death is the self-emptying of Christ, the kenosis, that is to say His degradation and death on the cross. Paul understands that by His resurrection, Jesus Christ is the one who has engaged all his strength, all his heart and all his will, by His passion and not by the Law, to deserve to be the most righteous one. Whoever wants to follow Christ must necessarily pass through the way of the cross and of the passion: « If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. » (Mt. 16:24; Mk 8:34).
With his radical conversion, Paul no longer runs toward a goal that he had set himself: persecuting Christians wherever they were, but toward a goal that the Lord Jesus shows him. Paul already realized that if he rushed in, he would do so in obedience to a call on the part of Jesus, who had loved him so much and for whom He had given His life to ensure Paul’s eternal life.
Unity, fruit of love
Yes, divine love brings us together in unity. In his letter to the Ephesians (ch.3), St Paul recommends that we ground ourselves in love because this will enable us to know the width, the length, the height and the depth of the love of Christ which surpasses all that we can know. We will be so filled with this love that we can penetrate the fullness of God (vv17-19), that is we can be in unity with God. In effect, we will be one, as Christ is one with His Father: « that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…… so that they may be brought to complete unity. » (Jn 17: 21-26).
This unity, at the levels of the family, the community, the Church and humanity, is the sign of the inner man, developed in us by the love of Christ and our rooting in Him. These two realities allow Christ to establish his dwelling in our hearts (Eph. 3: 16-17) in order to fill us with the fullness of God (v.19) so that we become temples of the Spirit. Thus, Jesus and His Father transform us into their resting place: « If anyone loves me, he will observe my word, and My Father will love him; We will come to him and make our home with him. » (Jn 14:23).
This fraternal meeting, this pilgrimage in Greece which has no official status but is kindly organized by “True life in God”, and particularly by Mrs.Vassula Rydén, is still a grace for us all. We want to live it as such and pray together for the unity of the human race. It is He, the Lord, who calls us to live this meeting as an extraordinary grace. Yes, we want to live this grace together, to compensate for the ignorance and reciprocal mistrust of generations during past centuries. Despite our differences, sometimes deep, we know that we are all loved by God, redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ, and His spirit of love.
In many cases, especially during our pilgrimages together in Rome, in Moscow, today in Greece and tomorrow elsewhere, we have acquired esteem and friendship between us. We have found an amazing freedom to challenge each other on the issues that divide us. We cannot minimize the role of the doctrine in our dialogues; but it is proper to assign it its rightful place in our journey together toward the truth. The spirit of God, the spirit of love, leads us on the right path. Let us have the courage to obey Him, because He is the spirit of God, who wants to save us all together.
It is said: “No one is an island.” We are all members of one body, all brothers for each other. No one can be happy alone. We are all saved by the One who has conquered death and earned life for us. The issue is not only the unity of the believers; it is also and above all the testimony that we make together to the outside world, evidence that we are all brothers of the same family and children of the same God, proclaimed and professed by some and unknown by others. Mutual love, as preached and recommended by the one Saviour, is the foundation of the salvation of men: « Love one another as I have loved you. » (Jn 13:34).
To do this, we have to purify our personal and community memory, in the first place by mutual forgiveness. It is the necessary condition for the development of divine love in us, resulting in fraternal charity, which forgives all (I Cor. 13 :5 and 7), and professes the truth in love (Ep.4: 15), guided by the spirit of God (Jn. 16:13).
To conclude, I confess that the purification sought by mutual forgiveness only occurs through devout prayer, coming from the depths of a heart filled with love, to rebuild the unity, lost and ardently sought today, so that the world may believe.
I thank you for listening.
Simon Atallah, oam
Maronite Archbishop Emeritus
of Baalbek and northern Bekaa (Lebanon)