Last week I tried to reveal a number of warnings dealing with the Culture of Death that we have been drifting into. Saint John Paul II urged us instead to work to build a Civilization of Love. This is the harder task since we have the culture of death all around us, but we have the Civilization of Love only in the future. It has not yet emerged.
But I think we can safely assume what some of the elements of this civilization may be.
First of all, we must come to an understanding of what we mean by the words ‘civilization’ and ‘love’. A civilization is something more than a culture.
A culture is an often-spontaneous series of impressions of habitual responses that are shared by a group of people. For example, it is part of the culture of Italians to celebrate food and cooking to an extraordinary extent. Food for Italians is not just about nutrition and bodily needs; it is about pleasure, and festivity and mutual sharing. The different tastes and kinds of food are celebrated, and a great deal of time and effort go into cooking so that the meal becomes something more than filling up with what is necessary for survival. It is an important part of the sharing of love that is essential for community and family. This is engrained in the culture of Italy, for everyone at all times.
A civilization is a shared bringing together of many cultural traditions, celebrated by art and science, for the purpose of providing a way of being that can be appreciated and used by people who are not from the immediate locus of the generating people. So that Classical Civilization has much to offer our modern world. Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles and Virgil, Augustine and Gregory are all products of this Classical Civilization.
When we speak of building a civilization of love, therefore, it is more than enshrining a feeling and trying to bring that feeling to others. It is rather to cause the Christian Gospel to permeate every vestige of life as we know it so that the first and last of every thought, word or action is the love of God, the love of the other and only finally the love of self. This faith filled understanding and perspective must include the transcendent dimension of God’s Presence acting in the world and His judgement of all things. To love God above all things and in all things is a mind-altering enterprise which puts God’s loving and self-giving Will at the very center of human understanding and willing so that history itself will stand testament to its reality and efficacy.
If we look at the history of the Western world, we perceive the growth of Christian Civilization and its decline. After the fall of Rome and the integration of the new peoples (barbarians? immigrants?), a gradual process of education occurred culminating in the High Middle Ages when there was one faith throughout Europe and one direction for thought, aspirations and future outlooks. With the ‘Enlightenment’ (which in itself was not a rejection of Christ but of the Medieval understanding and establishment of the one civilization) and then the secularizing movement that is modern history we are now left with the need to chart a new kind of civilization of Christian love that may inform and transform the data of daily modern life into a Christian understanding.
This is already beginning in that what has been handed on to us already (which seems the remnants of the old Christian Civilization) is already imbued with a Judeo-Christian world view which gives us a familiar foundation to build our new civilization of love. Christian love.
What we call Christian love is not what we call romantic or erotic love. Neither is it the love that is found in family and friendship. It is the kind of love that God has for us: a sacrificial love that is freely given and is unearned. It is not reciprocal as in the more human loves. It is not dependent on our response. As it says so clearly in Scripture: it is not that we have loved God but that He has first loved us (First Letter of St. John). It is the only love that is strong enough to be able to be given even to our enemies. A love based on compassion for the other and not on desire for gain on our part.
It is a love practiced by all the great saints. If we need illustrations of what I am talking about we have but to read their inspiring and heroic stories.
A world built on that kind of love will produce great art. It will drive science to forsake the invention of instruments of mass destruction and take up the search for more effective medicines and ways of forecasting natural disasters. It will be a place where the weak and the disabled are not annihilated but cared for. It will be an environment that is caring and nurturing. A place where contemplatives are formed in the midst of action. It will be a Civilization of Love.
A wild and unrealizable dream? Not for Christians. It is the Kingdom of God. Thy Kingdom come!