Let me also say here that once one has received this gift of grace—of having one’s heart and mind opened to the urgent seriousness of abiding in Christ—this does not guarantee that one will actually change for the better. Over the years, having interviewed hundreds of converts to Christ and His Church, I’ve also heard hundreds talk about having experienced a grace-filled change of heart, an awakening to Christ and His mercy, only to, after the passing of weeks, months, or years, drift back and away from Christ, maybe even further away than before.
This is why it’s important to recognize that one of the most mysterious aspects of God’s work in our lives is that, with all that He might do by grace to awaken us, to bless us, to open or close doors, to rescue us from the deep holes we’ve dug for ourselves, or to slam us up the side of the head with a 2×4 to get our attention, still, He always, to the very end of our lives, leaves us free to respond. He will never force anyone to turn from sin and self-centeredness, to follow Him.
I can hear someone complaining, “But that’s not fair! Why does God give this grace to some and not to others? How can anyone be held culpable if they weren’t given the grace?”
Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” Truth is, if you are asking for the assistance of God’s grace, this is proof you’ve already received it. You wouldn’t want God if His grace hadn’t already drawn you to Him. And since none of us has the ability to know what any other person is thinking, we can never know to what extent another person has or has not received grace, and, therefore, whether or not he has or has not rejected it. This is not our worry—our job is only to show and tell, and to love.
But I’ve rambled. Red Zone Thinking refers to an awakening we need to experience to start taking the Word of Christ more seriously (dare I add, before it’s too late)—it’s essentially that spiritual “round tuit” for which so many of us have been waiting.
For example, I had a RZT moment this past Sunday. The second reading in Mass was St. Paul’s very familiar “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13. We’ve all heard this a bazillion times, not just several times a year from the pulpit but at nearly every wedding. As a result, most of us only hear these words as descriptive of what love ought to be within marriage, and rightly so, but this was not the context within which St. Paul was speaking. He was writing to a Church that was broken and divided over scandals, petty jealousies, rivalries, and other shameful ways that the leaders and people had failed to freely followed the gift of grace. In this passage about love, St. Paul was cutting through all the clutter and drawing them back to the one primary thing for which they will one day be held culpable before God.
They had been bickering and one-upping each other over who had the greatest gifts, so Paul said, “You earnestly desire the ‘higher gifts’, but I’ll show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31, my translation).
He then boldly chastised them for their blindness: It does not matter if a leader is a pillar of prayerful devotion, or wise foresight, or bold faith, or selfless philanthropy, or even selfless courage, if they have not love, it’s all nothing—they are nothing, and all their efforts and showing off gain nothing.(cf, 13:1-3)
So what is love? We’ve all heard rightly that the love spoken of here is not something driven by emotion or passion, as our digital world proclaims 24/7, but a love that we freely and willfully choose, regardless of what our emotions are saying. It’s something we do, not something we feel. It’s actually an active response to something we’ve already been given: God’s merciful, undeserved love—”We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
So the lens of RZT demands us to hear what St. Paul is saying, maybe in a way we’ve never heard before—when we really weren’t listening, or when instead we were thinking how some other person needed to hear this!
No: this is about you and me. Ask yourself now, if the litany below was the checklist that God was using tonight, to evaluate our lives, based on our immediate relationships, how might you or I stack up?
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not jealous.
Love is not boastful.
Love is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things.
Love believes all things.
Love hopes all things.
Love endures all things.
Love never ends.
As for prayerful devotion, wise foresight, bold faith, selfless philanthropy, or even selfless courage, they will all pass away. (cf, 1 Cor 13:4-8)
Yes, the three Theological virtues that need to grow in our lives—that should have been growing in our lives all these past years and decades!—are faith, hope, and love: faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and only savior; hope that by His grace and forgiveness we will spend eternity with him; and complete selfless love of God and neighbor. But through all this, still, the one greatest thing that too many of us lack, the one thing that will mean anything in the end, is love. (cf. 1 For 13)
And this is precisely what the Second Vatican Council Fathers proclaimed in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). Consider seriously this important exhortation:
He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” (LG 14; CCC 837; emphasis mine)
It’s not so important how I’ve failed to love in the past, Lord forgive me, or how I might love in the future, Lord willing, but how I begin loving in these ways right now, my spouse, my children, my grandchildren, my neighbors, my coworkers, every person that God has put into my life so that they might experience His love through me.
This is Red Zone Thinking.