Of whom do we love?

There  is something to be said for neighbors. Some we know well and some we know not at all. Some we like and some…well, not so much. Some we trust and some we attempt to avoid like a plague. Some are always willing and eager to help when you are in need and others quickly find themselves too busy to lend a hand. Some will do for you before you ask of them.

Forgiveness

The same can as well be said for our families and our communities. No doubt, the question of “Who is my neighbor?” can be, and often is, challenging. In this we are often tempted more toward suspicion than acceptance, our onboard fight-or-flight response reaction on high alert. Our reactions toward others is seldom instant embrace. We seldom see Jesus in the eyes of a stranger.

Yet, Jesus reminds us, over and over again, that our neighbor is not only the person next door, but the ones up the street, the ones that live on the next block, the stranger around the corner, the enemy lurking in the shadows, the ragged person lying in the doorway, the people we have yet to meet. Jesus shows us that the stranger, the tax collector, the soldier, the leper, the dying, the blind, and the lame are all neighbors, worthy of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

It sounds so easy, to love a stranger, but we know it is not. It is hard, some might say impossible to love those who return hatred for love; violence for peace. There are those who don’t want to be neighbors, those who reject us, distrust everyone, and even those who want to persecute us. How can we extend our hands and our hearts to them, how can we ever hope to be their neighbors?

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is this:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

All too often, we hear the first, nod our heads, and give it little, if any, further notice. The second we hear but partially, and are wont to qualify, misunderstanding an important part of it. What we fail to understand is that the two are inextricably intertwined, the second made possible only because of the first.

It is because of his love for us that we must love God with our entire being. Our being, our existence is entirely dependent on God’s sustaining love.

Without God’s love we simply would not, could not, be. His love gives us life, sustains us, nourishes us. It is the first and great commandment that make the second one possible for only by and through God’s love are we able to love God, our neighbor, and … ourselves.

In order to love our neighbors, we must first believe in the forgiving power of God’s love and allow him to heal our brokenness. We must forgive ourselves, letting go of our faults and failures, allowing ourselves to be forgiven. We must place our trust in God and know that we are his beloved children. Only when we see the image of a loving God in ourselves can we see God in our neighbors.

Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “Some people cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” We all know those whose presence warm our hearts and fill the room with joy and laughter just as we are aware of others for whom we cringe at the very thought of them. To paraphrase Wilde: “Some people we love without reservation; others, with great reservation.

Jesus tells us,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

No one, especially Jesus, ever said loving others would be easy, and he should know. Even after excruciating torture and crucifixion, he still offered those who would kill him his love and forgiveness.

The truth is that loving others can often be far more difficult a task to accomplish than anything else we might attempt to do in this life. Let’s face it, some people make it extremely difficult if not nearly impossible to love.

And then there are those whose virulent hatred and animosity toward others lends no opening through which one can hope to inject even an ounce of love. They hate for the sake of hating. Their words and actions condemn you because you wish to love them. Their hearts are cold, hardened against any and all attempts to love. It seems to be an impossible quest.

We all know of someone for whom it is difficult to love and yet we are called to love them as our heavenly Father loves them. Jesus does not equivocate; he is crystal clear on what we must do: we must love our enemies and pray for those who would persecute us, for it is only in loving those for whom it is most difficult to love that we may be called children of God.

How are we to love the unlovable, especially those who project hatred and ill-will, those who espouse to perpetrate evil upon us?

First, we must recognize and admit that all of life comes from God; we are God’s creatures, made in his image and likeness. We must also remember that God is a community of Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, one in being yet mutually interdependent.

Our obsessive desire to be independent is not Godly. Too often we live our lives believing we are accountable to no one but ourselves and that attitude almost always results in trouble, pain, and suffering. Our defenses rise whenever others take offense or offer criticism for anything or something we say or do. For some, any criticism, real or imagined, can be devastating, emotionally and psychologically so, the current demand for safe spaces and abundant trigger warnings on campuses obvious examples.

The truth is, no one lives alone. We are communal creatures; God made us that way. He said so, from the very beginning, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Yet, communal creatures though we are, living with others can be difficult at times. We are a broken people, selfish, egoistic, with a lust for power. Factions, backbiting, jealousies abound in our communities, our neighborhoods, our parish families as wells as our personal families. Cynicism, disillusionment, distrust seep into our bones.

We bristle at being criticized, and yet without it we cannot grow, we will not learn. Anyone who desires to grow and learn to excel at anything should welcome, even seek out criticism. It is how we learn. But criticism must be loving, not harsh, negative, or belittling. We must love others enough to mentor and care for them as children of God.

Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Often, we hesitate out of fear of the other’s response.  As the victim of some injustice, we are tempted to harden our hearts, when Jesus calls us to love and forgive our neighbor.

A sinner, and we all fall into that category, ought never be tried, convicted or sentenced in absentia. Why should that be so? Because it is the sinner’s welfare that is at stake as much as the one who has been sinned against. We live in a throw-away culture; redemption runs counter-cultural: we can love the victim but not the criminal. Jesus tells us to love both.

Directly confronting another person, especially someone with whom we have or are having difficulties is seldom enjoyable.

Some families will go for years before addressing a problem. Grudges or resentments within a community more often die with those who hold them rather than come to resolution in quiet conversation. Misdeeds of friends or relatives are usually discussed with anyone but the accused.

Our human relationships mirror our relationship with God. Whenever we encounter each other—not only in prayer—Jesus is in our midst.1

Amen.

Homily #139
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

 


1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, Challenge in Community, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

About the Author

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator.

Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin.

He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is “Colloqui: A journal for restless minds”, a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

He is the author of two books: “The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence” which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and “Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories” which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love.

He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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