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Monday, November 26, 2018

Advent Begins December 2 - why bother?

I read the saddest post on FaceBook today.

A medical doctor advised a patient to (essentially) only love those who return the love.  This doctor told his patient that "no matter how good and kind (one is) to people, if actions are not reciprocated you are being used whether it is family or friends."

This probably does not seem like a sad post to most of the world, but to me it sums up what has gone terribly wrong with our society today.  We look for what we are getting - and if we give, it is with an eye towards whether or not it was worth giving in the first place.  If the person, or people, we love do not love us back we are being used.  We are being hoodwinked. We are nothing to admire, no one to emulate.  Why would you want to be someone who just loves without return?

In this month's Magnificat Magazine, one of my Dominican brethren quotes Pope Benedict the XVI who wrote, in 1964 (before he became Pope) the following:

"Being a Christian means having love.  That is unbelievably difficult and, at the same time, incredibly simple.  Yet however difficult it may be in many respects, discovering this is still a profoundly liberating experience".

Why would this be liberating?  Father Garrigou-Lagrange, OP asserts that is it because most of us think love is earned by our behavior.  Because we cannot comprehend the infinite sea of God's Love, we think we have to behave a certain way or do certain things or even, heaven forbid, LOOK a certain way in order to be lovable.

I think the attitude of the doctor demonstrates this belief and adds a layer to it.  Love, to be love, in his mind must be reciprocated. If it is not, it is wasted and it can cause the lover harm.  

Yet, that is not the love of which the Christian speaks.  It is not the love to which the Christian aspires and it is not the love that the Christian tries to imitate.  

We are called, by Jesus, to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect (St.Matthew 5:48).  Holy Scripture gives example after example of this unselfish love, a love that is freely given and not withdrawn when the behavior of the beloved is less than stellar. 

For Catholics, this is not as daunting as it may sound to the rest of the world.  Through the Church, we have a Sacramental and Liturgical life that is designed to give us the grace we need to keep loving even when we are ignored or, worse, when our outstretched hand is slapped away.  We are not to turn our back, we are to open our arms and love more.  We are to imitate the promises of Christ, the greatest of which is fulfilled on the Cross.  

I think we have lost this basic understanding of Christianity.  I think, because that has been lost, we have had it replaced with the idea of 'healthy love' - a love that is given on the condition that we get a return on our investment.  We have, I believe, becomes so caught up in the 'me me me' of the world that an outward focus has become something to denigrate unless it produces tangible, measurable results.  We can give food to the homeless because we can see them eat it.  To love the sister who is an alcoholic, who gets drunk and calls at all hours of the night to talk about the stuff that happened when you were 12 years old and how mom always loved you best - that is 'dangerous'.  

If I only loved people who loved me back, there would be a lot of people not on my prayer list.  I forgive when necessary.  I apologize when necessary.  I love no matter what - even if I have to do it through tears of hurt and shame.  When I feel that need to be loved in return, what I know is I am failing in my spiritual development and it warrants a trip - first to the Adoration Chapel and then to the Confessional and then...to receive the Eucharist.

I take that call from the drunk who decides, at 2am, to call me and tell me how much she hates me because I think I am perfect.  I wait until she is done telling me off and I tell her this:  I am sorry I hurt you. I love you.  Thank you for telling me how I can improve.  Now, how about you go to sleep and let's see about meeting up at a meeting tomorrow?

The Catholic Church has a history rich with saints who spent their physical strength in giving to the poor.  No matter how tired, not matter their own suffering they walked, the taught, they listened and they helped. Oftentimes they did so despite the jeers of those around them.  Their doctors told them they were killing themselves.  They knew they were giving of themselves...and they did so because of Love.

That is my ideal.  I want to be that unselfish. I fail, usually in a spectacular fashion, but it is something I still keep trying to do, to be, to imitate.

This Advent Season, let's try to show the world what it means to be a Christian - that it is about Love...a Love that is unconditional and offered to all.  Let's remember - we are loved because of who God is, not because of who WE are - God is good, infinite and eternal.

Let's practice our Faith....and let's prove the doctor wrong.

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