In today’s scripture readings the word ’love’ is used 18 times. Jesus makes it clear that the authenticity, the ‘realness’ of our life as Christians, as his followers, stands of falls on our efforts to love other people as we have been loved by God.
This word ‘love’ is the most overuse and abused word in the English language. We often say,’ I love this or that. What we really mean is I like, I admire, I want, I envy or, I wish I had what you have. In our relationships we use the word ‘love’ to entice or to lure another person into a casual kook-up but not honest and committed relationship. We toss the word love around so much that we’ve trivialized and cheapened it.
Love is a costly word, a demanding word, it is a ‘never give up’ word. Love demands fidelity and commitment from us. We see loved lived in a husband and wife celebrating 50 or 60 or more years married having lived through the good and the bad and maybe even the ugly but hung in there and still love each other.
We see love lived in the son or daughter, the husband or the wife caring for a parent or a child who doesn’t even know who they are, who slip in and out of reality. We see loved lived in the spouse who sits day after day at the bedside of the love of their life slowly, ever slowly slips away. We see love lived in the mother and father who will not give up on a prodigal son or daughter who have abandoned the faith or the values on which they were raised. We see love lived as each one of us tries and tries again to live the great commandment, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’
Love is not the same as like. There are people we get along with, people whose company we enjoy. There are people we can work with, spent time with, people with whom we are comfortable. We can love such people.
Then there are people we can’t stand, people who annoy us and drive us crazy. We know bossy people, controlling people, intruding people, people who talk behind our backs or put us down, people who are so negative about everything in life. We brush shoulders with people who belittle our faith, our church. We may work with people who have no respect for our culture and traditions, people who do not respect our life style nor try to understand it, people who wouldn’t give us the time of day. These are the men and women we are called to love. If we love only the people who love us there is no challenge to love. As Jesus taught us ‘if we love those who love us this is not enough, as Jesus said, ‘even the Gentiles do that. He said you are to love your enemies and do good to those who harm you. Love calls us to pray for the well-being of others. We try to respect them even though they do not respect us. We pray that God be good to them even though they are not good to us. Love demands we do them no harm and do not belittle them even though they do not offer us the same courtesy. It is not easy to turn the other cheek but our faith tells us these people we don’t get along with, people we don’t want in our lives are as loved by God, precious to God as we are. We know in our hearts that Christ died on the cross for them just as surely as he died for us.
Because of our inbred prejudice, bigotry, mindsets, deep seated opinions about other people it is a constant battle to be respectful of other people’s cultural backgrounds, their faiths and their life styles. It is not easy to love and pray for religious fanatics who hate our faith and freedom but we have to try.
In one of his recent talks Pope Francis said ‘it isn’t a matter of whether or not we will fall, it is a question of whether or not we will get up? Will we get up after we fall admitting our words, our thoughts, our actions toward others were not worthy of Christ. Will we get up and keep on trying to love others as Christ has loved us?’