Tito, my son, taught me St. Augustine made a mistake. Tito, dressed as a fireman, handed the tennis ball to a boy dressed as Superman and said, “You throw it.”
Both boys laughed and smiled and Superman threw the ball as Zilly the therapist dog at the Children’s Inn ran to fetch the ball. Tito gave up his turn to another out a deep sense of love. The whole day was filled with such moments. We had come to the day at the Children’s Inn, located next to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as all parents have–in a desperation to help our child medically. So, we found ourselves among families looking for answers who had in their midst children with rare and dangerous diseases. We were there right before Halloween, and the staff had orchestrated a trick or treat day for the kids. They provided costumes and pumpkins to decorate and paths for kids to trick or treat along. The joy was dense, for the ballet of kids exited to simply be kids was accompanied by the strong melody of love. Jesus has been called the Lord of the Dance by one hymnist. Seeing children who have trouble speaking smiling from their wheelchairs at the procession of compassion, I knew the truth. We are the image of God when we love, for, as 1 John 4 claims, God is love. When we love, we reflect the divine image within us.
St. Augustine, following Hellenistic philosophy, thought the image of God we humans reflect was tied to our ability to reason. As he wrote, “Man’s excellence consists in the fact that God made him to His own image by giving him an intellectual soul, which raises him above the beasts of the field.” (Gen. ad lit. vi12)
St. Augustine located the divine image in aspects of the rational mind. Without getting to into many of the tragic results of such a stand, like the devaluing of those with limited rational capacities or the emphasis on belief defined as agreeing to propositions, the mistake was not without ramifications in the history of the church. As I was with my son as he filled his pillow case with goodies and laughed with his new friends, I rediscovered why love is truly the image of God within us. St. Paul understood this, urging us to look at the fruits of the Spirit as we look for God. All of the Fruits tie back to love. As the smiles and joy of sick kids filled the hallway of the Children’s Inn, the truth of Jesus’s twin commandments of loving God and loving others was present. I experienced the glory of God. For when we love, we find Jesus’s presence. This is one truth the church can proclaim, for God is love. When we love, we discover God.
When I love a neighbor, I find God is with me. I believe that if I understand this Gospel Truth with every fiber of my being, I will find Jesus waiting with open arms.
Need a way to begin? Why not Psalms 136? There is nothing like God’s word itself to help take a first step towards a relationship with him and his creation.