Easy Love/Tough Love

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When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22: 34-40

The Gospel from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time has been rambling around in my brain for the past couple days.  It started Sunday when I read the Holy Father’s address at the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on the “Great Commandment.”

Then I went to Mass, quietly minding my own business, and the priest told me how challenging this commandment is and how I couldn’t always trust my feelings and my mind started working overtime and I realized that I live in a world that is terribly misinformed in matters of love.  Which isn’t to suggest I’m an expert.

What does it mean to love?  What is love?  Loving God seems like a no-brainer.  After all, how could I not love the source of all that is good?

But part B of this commandment is the tricky one.  How am I supposed to love so many people I encounter who, frankly, don’t seem all that loveable?  The commandment suggests I can – and I must.

How?  By finding love?

Our culture generally defines love in three ways, which often do not overlap.

Definition one:  Love is cute and cuddly, warm and fuzzy, makes you feel happy.

Definition two:  Love is all about the interaction of male and female hormones, meeting someone attractive who can satisfy every carnal passion.

Definition three:  Love is suffering and sacrifice, making oneself miserable for the sake of another, risking death by slaying a dragon to save a damsel in distress.

Each of these definitions depends on the “attractiveness” of the one I love:  A warm puppy, the love of my life, someone so wonderful I would die for them.

But the commandment says to love others as myself. Not just some others.  Not just others who are nice to me.  Not necessarily people I like.

Yes, I’m called to love people I don’t like.  And this turns our cultural perceptions upside down.

As anyone who watches prime-time television can tell you, liking someone precedes loving something.  You like first and if that goes well, you progress to love.  (This requires very little time in some television shows and movies.) But the commandment requires me to love my neighbor and there isn’t any mention of the neighbor’s likeability or fairness or honesty or beauty.

Can I love someone I don’t like?  Absolutely…and it may not be easy, pleasant, warm and fuzzy.  It may be downright unpleasant at times.

A nurse bathing a cranky old patient is showing love for the other; it is hardly a “good time.”

A parent demanding a child eat his green beans and finish his homework is showing love – but likely doesn’t like the child in the midst of the tug and pull of parenting.

A wife may not be feeling warm and fuzzy toward the husband who shows up an hour late for dinner – but still loves him.

I have never accepted the contention of some spiritual directors that feelings don’t matter and can’t be trusted.  Feelings can be unreliable, but they are real to the extent that they can spur actions or freeze us in inaction.

But I have come to believe that love transcends feelings.  I can demonstrate love even when my feelings, my emotions can’t like and tell me to flee something uncomfortable.

I must love. Sometimes that means doing what is best for someone I don’t like and by any objective measure is unlikeable.  Frankly, there are some rather unlikeable people in my life – even in my extended family.  But I have come to love them just the same.

 

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The Pet Report

1028171524cIn Chicago, local television news has gone to the dogs – and various other animals.

I discovered this strange fact one recent night when I watched the local Fox affiliate (not to be confused by Fox News or Fox Business).

Most local television news in Chicago starts at 10 p.m. and lasts for 30 minutes.  The Fox folks start at 9 p.m. and continue for a full hour.

With that much extra time, you might think Fox would do some really in-depth reporting…root out corruption…brings us scenes of crime and tragedy from around the world…reveal the ins and outs of politics.

Instead, I watched several weather segments with amazing graphics that presented very simple information in a very complicated manner.  Despite all sorts of spinning symbols, swirling arrows, flashing lights and pulsating maps, all I learned was the projected temperature, wind and precipitation for the next day.

I had always heard that the motto of local news is “if it bleeds it leads.” Instead, Fox treated me to no less than four stories about animals:

  • The Coast Guard rescued two dogs from a marooned boat. They did mention that two people were rescued, but the focus was on man’s best friends, although the rescued humans were women.
  • There was an update on a coyote pup that had been injured and now lives with a foster coyote mom and her pup, which is now his step-brother pup.
  • Apple has a fancy new store that is all glass, with trees inside and gleaming lights at night. Apple customers love it.  Unfortunately, birds keep flying into the glass and dying.  This at least was a semblance of news; I learned that there is an organization of bird lovers who go around downtown Chicago looking for dead bird who may have flown into a building.
  • A pair of intrepid police officers tracked down an escaped pet rabbit and returned it to its forlorn owner.

Animals are important, valuable and sometimes cute.  Still, this didn’t seem like news and I decided I wouldn’t watch this report again.

But I may have been rash in that decision. After all, reports must be coming about cats, rats, fish and frog.

Time to Renew…again?

karl-fredrickson-27504-768x512I have had the experience a few times.  It happens during Mass and it makes me squirm.  I might even sneak a look around to find out if people are looking at me.  And I’m willing to bet I’m now the only one who has had this particular experience:  The Catholic Creeps.

There I sit in Mass, well-behaved, quiet. The priest is giving a perfectly fine homily.  Then he warns the congregation of a particular shortcoming or temptation that plagues people and I have the sense he is talking directly to me.

Oh no!  Father knows I’m insensitive, impatient, envious…whatever.  And he is calling me out right here in front of everyone!

Of course, he isn’t doing any such thing.  He is raising legitimate concerns and my conscience makes the connection.  That darn conscience.

My pastor can instill The Catholic Creeps on only a few hundred parishioners at a time.  But think of the Pope; he can do it to the multitudes.

Pope Francis dishes out The Catholic Creeps in the best sense, challenging us to be the best versions of Catholic that we can be.  Sometimes it seems like he is talking personally to me, although I’m pretty sure he didn’t roll out of bed thinking of how his homily that day would move little old me.

Likewise, I doubt he saunters over to St. Peter’s Square for a Sunday Angelus thinking, “Hey, have I got a great message today just for Jimbo…he could use a little poke in the side.”

Just the same, that doesn’t prevent his words from having a particular resonance with me, as they seemed to have one Sunday, when the Holy Father celebrated Mass in the square and declared 35 new saints.  (By the way, of all the good things a Pope gets to do, can anything be more fun than declaring saints?)

He gave a beautiful homily based on the day’s gospel about the king and the wedding feast from Matthew 22.  It is here if you would like to read it.

A few phrases popped out that seemed aimed at our Movement:

  • Our relationship with him, then, has to be more than that of devoted subjects with their king, faithful servants with their master, or dedicated students with their teacher.
  • In other words, the Lord wants us, he goes out to seek us and he invites us.
  • For him, it is not enough that we should do our duty and obey his laws. He desires a true communion of life with us, a relationship based on dialogue, trust and forgiveness.
  • Such is the Christian life, a love story with God.
  • No one has a better seat than anyone else, for all enjoy God’s favor.
  • We can ask ourselves if at least once a day we tell the Lord that we love him; if we remember, among everything else we say, to tell him daily, “Lord, I love you; you are my life”
  • They were more interested in having something rather than in risking something, as love demands.
  • This is how love grows cold, not out of malice but out of a preference for what is our own: our security, our self-affirmation, our comfort… We settle into the easy chair of profits, pleasures, or a hobby that brings us some happiness.
  • And we end up aging badly and quickly, because we grow old inside. When our hearts do not expand, they become closed in on themselves.
  • We need to put on God’s love and to renew our choice for him daily.

If you are reading this (and you survived this far into the article), you, like me, likely have had moments when you could stop “renewing.”  I think the Pope just gave us, and every other Christian, the only true answer to that question: never.

“We need to put on God’s love and to renew our choice for him daily.”  Each day is an opportunity to love anew…to accept God’s love…to renew.

Days of Disaster

Gioacchino_Assereto_-_Christ_healing_the_blind_manDevastating hurricanes hit the Caribbean and Southern United States.  Terrifying earthquakes strike Mexico.  For reasons unknown, a man rains terror on a concert crowd in Las Vegas, killing dozens and wounding hundreds.

What an awful summer, filled with despair and destruction.

We pray for those suffering. We send money and supplies.  People who are able, volunteer their labor.

And we look for someone or something to blame.

Perhaps the hurricanes are the result of global warming, caused by industrial emissions, created by greedy capitalists.  On the other hand, history suggests that hurricanes happen and there isn’t much (if anything) we can do to prevent them.  Of course, we can build on high ground and run away when they approach.

Perhaps earthquakes are caused by fracking to obtain natural gas.  Perhaps they are caused by loud salsa bands.  Perhaps there is volcanic activity in the earth and earthquakes simply happen.

As for mass killers, theories abound. Perhaps the Vegas killer had a miserable childhood.  Perhaps he ate too much refined white sugar.  Maybe he watched too many episodes of TV crime shows.

Or, he just might be an example of evil personified. Nothing complicated. Nobody to blame. Just pure evil.

A question since humans could think and came to believe in a power greater than themselves:  Why does God let this happen?

For primitive people, the explanation was simple, if likely inaccurate.  God was powerful and vengeful and if man did something God didn’t like, bad things would happen.  So…if there was an earthquake, someone sinned – or slacked off on sacrifices at the altar.

Some folks still think that way, assuming that this sudden spate of natural disasters is the result of unbiblical lifestyles, video games or mistreatment of farm animals.

Some brilliant, sensitive people have written on this subject.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, tried to make sense of the suffering in German concentration camps during World War II.  Frankl survived years in the camps, his parents, wife and brother all dying.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner, tried to make sense of the sorrow experienced when he learned his young son had a terrible disease and would live only a few years.

At the other end of the spectrum of elegance is the political saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  This has been attributed to everyone from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to Winston Churchill.  The inference is that a smart politician can use a crisis to his own benefit.  A rather cynical thought.

But I have a much less cynical view, and none of my friends would accuse me of being a Pollyanna.  I believe that as terrible as a crisis (hurricane, earthquake, mass murder) may be, it will unleash God’s grace and the remarkable nobility of the human spirit.

In Houston, fishermen in their small boats cruised flooded neighborhoods, rescuing threatened homeowners and ferrying them to safety.

In Mexico, college students searched for survivors and brought relief to those in need.

During the Las Vegas shooting, a young man shielded his fiancé with his body. She was safe; he died.

Bad things have been happening ever since Adam and Eve made a mess of things in the Garden of Eden.  But every bad thing has allowed good to surface.

I’ve seen it in my own family, where the debilitating diseases of an aging parent brought distant family members together to face a common challenge to provide care.  In one instance, the family member deemed least likely to make great sacrifices, did just that.

Perhaps we’ll never stop trying to assign blame when disaster strikes.  But it could be we’re looking at this backwards.  Maybe we should be looking at the good arising from the bad.

Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man in the ninth chapter of John.  The disciples wanted to know if the man was blind because of his own sins or the sins of his parents.

Jesus replied (I have to think he chuckled a bit in doing so) that it was neither the sins of the man nor his parents “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Yes, it has been a summer of disaster.  It also has been summer of God’s glory.

Grateful Grandpa

1001171228aI got a new title this weekend:  GRANDPA.

That’s better than President, Chairman, General, Doctor, Esquire or Supreme Commander.

The job requirements to hold my new title are rather fuzzy…but warm.  The key elements are love, hugging, smiling, tears of joy and a heart bursting with gratitude.

I’m grateful for my daughter and her husband.  And I’m grateful for the two babies who qualify me to be grandpa.

Juliana Therese and Lucy Faustina are fraternal twins.  You probably notice from their names that the family is Catholic.  I’m grateful for that.

I know.  I’m sounding really sweet and annoyingly happy.  But I can’t help it.

My wife and I will mark 43 years of marriage in a few days.  Yes, I’m grateful for that.  And people who know me realize that she must be a saint.

I have great plans for the twins.  I’m going to teach them how to fish.  I’m thinking they will take piano lessons.  Maybe they will be artistic, like their grandma.  The might write a little.

But if all those dreamy plans go by the wayside, it really isn’t important.  The only thing I need is to look and them and thank God.