A love that makes goodness

When a man’s love is caused from the goodness of the one he loves, then that man who loves does so out of justice, inasmuch as it is just that he love such a person. When, however, love causes the goodness in the beloved, then it is a love springing from mercy. The love with which God loves us produces goodness in us; hence mercy is… the root of divine love… (Thomas Aquinas, In Eph. 2:2)

I have been, because of the Jubilee of Mercy, thinking a lot about mercy. A colleague sent me this quote today and it thrilled me! I love Aquinas’ precision and clarity.

St. Thomas’ formulation of mercy made me think of a story I have long cherished and often shared. It was told to me by a Russian priest ~30 years ago. He was at the time involved in prison ministry in the mid-late 1980’s. He was himself a burly and imposing man with an enormous beard and a basso profondo voice, and had a heart for the most hardened of criminals. As I recall, early in life he had been involved in drug-related crimes before coming to faith in Christ. This priest, as a seminarian put it to me this morning, was able to minister not only “to” the suffering, but “out of” his own suffering — he had been through plenty of it himself. A wounded healer, as Henri Nouwen famously worded it.

Once he told me about this particular prisoner who was placed in solitary confinement because he was so dangerously violent. He had committed several heinous crimes, and had showed absolutely no remorse. One day this priest was able to gain access to this man’s cell. When Father entered the cell, the man yelled at him: “Go away, goddamn priest! Leave me to rot in hell.”

Almost every day for the next year, the priest would come to this man’s cell and look at him through the small slot-window. He would say nothing, just look, and the inmate would look back. No words were exchanged. Then, just about a year to the day, the priest came one day and looked through the slot as he had every other day. But this time the man stood up and walked over to door and said through the slot: “I just wanted to see if you were serious. Come in.”

The inmate took instruction, was baptized and lived his days as a hermit.

The long-suffering love of this priest, which was the love of Christ in him (2 Cor. 5:14), caused goodness to come alive in the hardened heart of this man.

That is mercy. And it ripened into its most exquisite fruit: goodness.

I often find myself before I fall asleep reflecting on my day and asking myself: Was I the cause for an increase in goodness in others today?

This song by Ooberfüse captures the life of mercy born of the Spirit of Love who dwells in open hearts (lyrics below):

“As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm – like my predecessors – that …hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again”

You’ve got to open your heart wide
To the Love that is inside
Source of life none can resist
Her fatal charms disperse the mist
Of hopelessness and deep despair
Broken wings she will repair
With Love
You’ve got to open your heart wide
To the Love that is inside
She is the force of raging passion
Melting hearts with Love’s compassion
Living water
Rushing tide
Flowing hidden deep inside
Tide of Love

“Hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again”

Hoping you’ll hear me
Love is my heart’s cry
That you would feel
Love is my heart’s cry

“Give voice to that cry”

You’ve got to open your heart wide
To the Love that is inside
When she knocks upon your door
Go help the poorest of the poor
Lying dying in the gutter
Like Teresa of Calcutta
Feel the love y’all!

You’ve got to open your heart wide
To the Love that is inside
Let Love sweep across the nation
And ignite a conflagration
Burning up all our defences
Pulling down dividing fences
With Love

“Hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again”

Hoping you’ll hear me
Love is my heart’s cry
That you would feel
Love is my heart’s cry

“Give voice to that cry”

“God lives, even though we sometimes find it difficult to grasp his mysterious and inscrutable ways.”

I hear you call my name
Life won’t be the same

Hoping you’ll hear me
Love is my heart’s cry
That you would feel
Love is my heart’s cry

“Give voice to that cry”

3 comments on “A love that makes goodness

  1. nos says:

    “””I just wanted to see if you were serious””” to persevere in the face of hatred and indifference for me is quite a difficult chore , I find myself more often than not being sanctimonious , holier than thou… this quote from William Penn is a favorite of mine “”” he that does good for goods sake seeks neither paradise nor reward but he is sure of both in the end… humble me LORD… Thank you good doctah— play ball — and don’t hog all the fenway franks P.B.W.Y.A.A.

  2. SR. Mary Assumpta says:

    Very powerful song. Our Holy Father is a great example of this.

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