Archbishop William E. Lori
The words “power” and “love” don’t seem to go together. Power tends to evoke fear. Love tends to evoke trust. It is rare to find a person who would be described as both powerful and loving.
In fact, we may even experience that disconnect with regard to God. We rightfully address God as almighty, all-powerful. But we also speak of God as loving and merciful. A moral theology professor once asked his students whether they thought of God as “a monster or a marshmallow” — that is to say, a harsh, exacting, powerful God, or an indulgent God who gives us everything and expects almost nothing in return. It turned out that many of his students thought of God as having a split personality — condemning one minute and forgiving the next.
Years ago, when I was helping a young couple prepare for marriage, the bride-to-be told me she didn’t want a Scripture reading from the Old Testament because back then God was “angry,” whereas in the New Testament God was “a lot nicer.”
Similarly, people’s faith is sometimes put to the test by God’s seeming powerlessness. When a terrible tragedy or natural disaster takes place, the question is asked, “Where was God?”
In truth, God is always powerful, truthful and loving. But his “thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways” (cf. Is 55:8).
A POWER THAT SAVES
God transforms our ordinary ideas about power and love. Flawed human beings often use power for evil purposes, and earthly love is all too often self-absorbed. Citing St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Nothing can be in God’s power which could not be in his just will or his wise intellect” (271). God uses his power to create and redeem, to share his truth, to reveal his love and to confer his goodness on creation. In his fatherly care for us, he takes care of our needs and calls us to be his sons and daughters. By his endless mercies, he exercises power over sin and even death. His power is his love, for “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).
Again and again, the Scriptures sing of God’s power to save. Mary was at the heart of God’s merciful plan for the salvation of the world. After announcing to her that she would become the mother of God’s son, the angel said, “Nothing will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37). In response to her cousin Elizabeth, Mary praised God’s power and love: “The Almighty has done great things for me, holy is his name” (Lk 1:49).
The greatest manifestation of God’s power is the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus told a paralytic that his sins were forgiven, the Pharisees accused him of blasphemy: “Who but God can forgive sins?” (Lk 5:21). Similarly, the Liturgy reminds us that God’s power is demonstrated most in his mercy. One of the Opening Prayers for Sunday Mass puts it this way: “O God, who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy….” Truly, the Lord’s idea of power is very different from our own.
As we journey through Lent on our way to Holy Week, we experience a dramatic moment and are invited to share the power of God’s mercy and love. When Christ is condemned and led forth to be crucified, he appears utterly powerless. He is deserted by his disciples. Even his heavenly Father seems to have abandoned him. Yet, it was in that moment that Jesus was most powerful. For, as he mounted the cross, Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world and, by means of suffering and death, robbed sin of its power to be the last word about human existence. Obedient to his Father’s saving will, Jesus used the instruments of suffering and death to defeat the power of sin and evil.
IN UNION WITH CHRIST
In the glory of the Resurrection, Jesus manifested his power over sin and death. As Blessed John Paul II often said, the love of Christ crucified is stronger than sin and more powerful than death. With Mary we can say, “The Lord has done great things for us, we are glad indeed” (Ps 126:3, cf. Lk 1:49).
Through the ages, we share in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Paschal Mystery, principally through the Mass and the sacraments. Exalted at the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus truly remains with us in the power of his love in all the circumstances of our lives. Our redeemer is never absent in our moments of triumph, in our daily routine, and in times of trouble and sorrow. In his wisdom, God does not prevent all sin and evil from occurring, but he accompanies us at every moment of our lives, constantly seeking to expand our capacity to receive and give his love. If we allow the Lord to comfort us by the power of his love, then whatever good we experience or evil we endure is for our salvation.
Meditating on the power of God’s love brings us to the first principle of the Order: charity. The charity that the family of the Knights of Columbus is called to practice flows from our union with Christ, crucified and risen. In our works of charity, we are bearing witness to God’s love and manifesting its power in our midst.
Through prayer, penance and charity may we open our hearts during this Lent as never before to the truth, beauty, goodness and power of God’s love!