This last weekend I was on a silent retreat whose theme was mercy. This was a genuine experience of God's grace for everyone I spoke with (and there were about 60 of us there). There is much that I will be able to bask in and meditate on and practice with for months to come. But I also came away with a word, a phrase really, that wasn't so much a part of the theme or the preaching, but it was simply from God for me. Really, yes, it has everything to do with God's mercy for me.
There is a reality that I have experienced and grown in for years, and have been able to identify, to feel, to mourn the lack of, to long for, to be called to -- and yet I never had a word for it. It wasn't, I think, because I lacked the creativity or the intelligence to know what to call it. It was more like God wanted it to stay in the realm of the ineffable for me. So it could do its work in me without my being able to communicate about it with any precision. But now He has given me the word.
And the word is this: apostolic love.
No, not Christian love; not spiritual love; not spiritual friendship; not apostolic zeal.
But apostolic love.
This is a love that is born from the cross of Christ in the hearts of those who share in it. It is a love that wants to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and move out into the world to bring Christ's love to those who do not know Christ's love. It inspires risk and work and joy and pain. It creates a bond that is not about cementing people to each other, but about a common drawing to the cross of Christ, which is the freeing unity of becoming His bond-slaves. It means giving one's life for Christ by giving it to Christ's people. It is the bond of unity in the Holy Spirit -- the person's unity with Christ and unity with fellow-Christian.
It takes incredible faith to move into this, because there is tremendous personal cost involved. This experience of unity with Christ and other souls requires the experience of Christ's cross.
It is what the Bishop-martyrs testify to: St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul with the Ephesians in Acts 20.
When Christian life is calculated on the basis of intellectual assent to dogmatic or moral norms and lame "moral choices" made while ensconced on the comfortable couch of one's luxuries, all this zealous vigor of apostolic love gets drained and we are left with lifeless, fruitless, motionless religiosity that, I believe, is the essence of what made Jesus want to spew the Laodiceans out of his mouth.