The Power of Love
When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
1. How do we achieve authentic social justice in a world torn asunder by so much greed and suffering? The parable of the Good Samaritan could well serve as a blueprint for achieving the peace and justice that everyone so anxiously desires. The details of the parable are quite familiar.
2. A traveler on his way to Jericho is assaulted by a band of robbers who leave him by the roadside half-dead. First, a priest and then a temple attendant pass by, who on seeing the poor wretch, continue on their journey. Bear in mind that the actors in the story thus far - the traveler, the robbers, the priest and the temple attendant - are all Jewish. Then along comes a Samaritan, a member of the race of half-breeds that the Jews despised for having committed the unpardonable sin of intermarrying with Gentiles. Yet it’s precisely the Samaritan who is so moved at the sight of the dying traveler, that he dismounts, binds up the victim’s wounds, mounts him on his very own donkey, and then brings him to an inn for a full recovery (Lk. 10:29-37)
3. The key players in this parable illustrate the three major systems competing to shape reality according to their respective worldviews:
To paraphrase what Pope John Paul II expressed in Centesimus Annus: Radical socialism looks on the human person as a mere molecule in a social organism to which he is totally subordinated. One has no free will and can do nothing on his own initiative. He depends entirely on the state and on those who control it. (No. 13) Pope John Paul was speaking from personal experience, since he spent most of his life suffering the injustices of the Communist regime in his native Poland. Furthermore, those nations with a radical socialist agenda are invariably atheistic as well as hostile to the open practice of religion.
With the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, capitalism entered its first phase which was labor-driven. The workers were reduced to a commodity to be exploited by their employers for however low a wage they could get away with paying. Many workers were reduced to a state of quasi-slavery, barely able to support their families. Even underage children were caught up in this unjust scenario, as poet Sarah Cleghorn expressed with this poignant verse written in 1916:
7. Some 60 years ago capitalism degenerated into its second and even more insidious phase, which is consumer-driven and truly unfettered. Advertising was instrumental in this shift. Advertisements were used to lure consumers to base their purchases not so much on their needs as on their wants in order to satisfy their vision of a good life filled with luxuries. I quote Pope John Paul’s reflection on this situation: “On the one hand, the almost exclusive orientation towards the consumption of material goods robs human life of its deepest meaning. On the other, work often becomes an alienating experience, a constraint for man…The most sacred principals that were a sure guide of individual and social behavior - the sanctify of human life, the indissolubility of marriage, the true meaning of human sexuality, the upright use of material goods made available by progress - are being displaced by false pretexts of freedom.”
9. Just how are we to follow the Lord? I began this pastoral letter with the quote, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” The first time I heard that saying, I thought it originated from a great statesman or even a pope. I later learned that its actual author was Jimi Hendrix. Irrespective of its source, it synthesizes perfectly the message of this pastoral letter.
At the heart of radical socialism and raw capitalism lies the love of power. And unbridled power has been the source of most of the injustices that have afflicted humanity throughout history. Furthermore, those imbued with the love of power cringe at the possibility of sharing power with those who are weaker. Consider, for example, the frequent occurrence of the president of a struggling country as he nears the end of his tenure, forcing the parliament to rewrite the constitution or rigging the election in order continue his rule indefinitely. Is this not a case of the love of power? Or consider those nations which have stockpiled enough nuclear weapons to destroy our planet many times over. Yet as soon as a smaller nation begins to build a modest nuclear reactor, those with their nuclear arsenals threaten to impose all sorts of sanctions. When pressed for reasons, the powerful nations respond that their stockpiles are meant to help maintain peace; whereas by joining the nuclear club a weaker nation might misuse their weapons against innocent civilians. But in reality, is this not just another case of instance love of power?
Like the Samaritan in the parable, Christians must be motivated by love, not power. Among the final thoughts that Jesus shared the night before he died, far more than any other theme was that of love. “A new commandment I give you, love one another just as I have loved you.” Indeed, love is how his followers are to be identified - it’s their ID card, so to speak: “Everyone will know that you are my disciples by the love you have for one another.” (Jn. 13:34-35)
Two Fundamental Issues
The first case of a so-called injustice is defining marriage exclusively as the union between a man and a woman, thereby denying two men or two women the right to marry. There is no injustice here; for the institution of marriage predates both the Church and the state. It was instituted at the dawn of creation by God Himself: “Male and female he created them…For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 1:27 & 2:24) Marriage is an essential element of human society which cannot be redefined anymore than the chemical make-up of water can be. Their inherent natures warrant against it. Specifically, amplifying the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples is analogous to expanding the definition of water (H2O) to also include HH and OO - which is absurd. Attempting to extinguish a brush fire with the OO “water” could generate a forest fire; and boiling pasta in the HH “water” will result in nothing but uncooked noodles.
12. Another key instance of redefining reality concerns the right to life - the very foundation of every other human right. Without it, all other rights are like the walls and rooms of a marvelous mansion - built on sand.
Furthermore, the first test of justice is how we treat the weakest in our midst. Measured by that standard, most developed countries fail miserably. Every day, wealthy nations permit the extermination of tens of thousands of innocents in the womb. And for those who object that one cannot tell when human life begins, that objection is resolved by embryology, not theology: Human development begins at fertilization, when a male sperm unites with a female ovum to produce a single cell with its own DNA identity - the beginning of each of us as an individual. Full development requires only time and nourishment - the same needs of a newborn child.
Worse still, the developed nations force their culture of death on poor countries by linking much-needed aid to quotas of forced sterilizations and other population-control measures.
It should be noted that in his new encyclical, Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI reinforces what John Paul II designated as “the culture of life” by forging a strong link between the life issues and the social-justice issues: “Openness to life is at the center of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. (No. 28) Accordingly, in dealing with the life issues and the social-justice issues, it’s not a question of “either-or,” but of “both-and.”
13. Ever since modern man embraced the culture of death, with the exception of the island of Malta, not a single European nation is replacing its present population. In order for a country to maintain its current population, there must be 2.1 children for every adult couple. Italy, the land of my parents, has a replacement rate of only 1.2 children per couple. If that trend continues, Italy’s current population of 58 million will be reduced to 20 million by the end of this century. I’m not a prophet. It’s simple mathematics.
“Dear brothers, many unbelievers are not as hardened as you imagine . . . [For when] we seek [Christ] now, in this world, it is you we find, and only you . . . It is you Christians who participate in divinity, as your liturgy proclaims; it is you, who ever since [Christ’s] ascension have been his representatives on earth. . . .You are the salt of the earth. [So if] the world loses its flavor, who is it I should blame? . . . The New Testament is eternally young. It is you who are so old . . . Because you do not live your faith, your faith has ceased to be a living thing…and we no longer see Christ in our midst.”
According to a Gallup Poll conducted in 1999, do you know who Americans ranked as the most admired person of the 20th century? Eisenhower? FDR? Gandhi? John Paul II? No - not one of the world’s high and mighty. It was Mother Teresa! How is it that this diminutive nun, wrapped in a simple sari, came to be admired by so many? What was her secret? I’m not certain, but this anecdote from her life might give some indication.
The last phrase is the key to true holiness. It means that we embrace willingly whatever God allows to come our way, especially when it entails serious physical suffering, unemployment, or even the loss of a loved one. Here, as in all else, Jesus is our model, as when he prayed in the garden, “Father, if it is possible, remove this cup of suffering from me. Still, not what I want, but what you want.”
It’s also the role that Jesus assigned to the Samaritan and ultimately, to each one of us, in the parable that he told so many years ago - “Go and do the same.”
+ Victor Galeone