I remember what happened that winter evening, though I can’t tell you exactly which day it was. It happened almost a year ago. I remember I was at Mass, and that our beloved pastor (who has since passed away) had given another remarkable homily. (Redemptorists are good at that kind of thing!) And I was thinking a lot about the Faith and how to share it.
It happened after Communion, when I was praying and meditating. I remember thinking about the converts I know, and how they had all begun their journey into the Catholic Church with one thing in common: they were attracted by love. It might have been the love of a spouse, the love they felt for a child, or the pure love of a God Who is Love Itself. And I realized that the key to reaching people with the Gospel message is love. So I prayed a prayer that is changing me, little by little and day by day.
“Lord,” I began as I looked up at the crucifix above the altar, “help me to love like You love. Help me to love people as You love them.” I trembled a bit as I prayed it, knowing what a dangerous prayer this was to utter.
Deep inside me, I felt an answer of sorts. It will break your heart. It was more of a warning than an answer, to be honest. And impulsively, I answered back, “Okay, but You need to help put it together again.”
Since that day, I’ve been working on loving as Christ loves. It’s not easy – not even a little bit. Love on paper is the easy kind. You can read about love or how to love someone or how to have a good relationship, but when it comes time to actually put things into action, it’s far more difficult. I can decide that I will put my family first and attend to their needs before my own, but when it comes down to it, I fail at that daily. Not constantly, but in little ways throughout each day. I might stop to catch up on social media when I could be helping one child work through her book review for school. (Even if she doesn’t ask, the input is helpful to her.) Instead of cleaning the bathroom, I decide to read an article, and that turns into an hour lost on reading the next and the next and the next.
I can decide that I will be more friendly towards people at church, especially if they’re new, but when the time comes, I hide behind my husband and keep talking to the people I’m already comfortable talking to. The introvert tendencies win out most of the time. Reaching out is hard, it’s a risk. But all love comes with risk. There’s always the chance that we’ll be hurt in the process.
Probably the most difficult is loving people who are hard to love. It’s easy to love the people you get along with, but when it’s time to show that love for someone who’s frustrating you? That’s when you need God’s help more than ever. When I have to deal with someone who is constantly doing things that irritate me, it’s hard to love them without the grace of God. I have to, as the spiritual work of mercy says, bear wrongs patiently and love that person in spite of being irritated. When I’m inconvenienced because of that person not holding up their end of a deal, I need to forgive and work around it. I need to love them anyway.
But what I’m learning is that I need God’s help in all of these situations, and that I need to lean on Him so that I can learn to love people better. Mother Teresa talked about helping the poor, not necessarily by sending her money from America, but by loving the person who is right in front of you. It’s good (and necessary) to give money to charities that will feed the poor all around the world, but it is even better (and also necessary) to feed the homeless man standing on the corner and begging for money. His need is right in front of you, and you can help him.
Loving that homeless man means that I don’t prejudge what he might do with the few dollars I can give him. It means that I let his decision be between him and God, and I help with what I can manage. And I don’t do it grudgingly and impersonally. A dear friend told me that she speaks to and even touches the homeless people she gives money to. She asks for their names and treats them like real human beings (because they are). She was told by one woman that hardly anyone touches the homeless. People might give money or gift cards, but they work to avoid a physical contact. The feeling it gives them is one of being dehumanized.
God isn’t calling us to a distant, safe kind of love. He’s calling us all to a reckless abandonment kind of love — one that is full of risks, but that will pay off huge rewards in the end. Real love isn’t safe. Real love will hurt.
To know that, we only need to look at the Cross, for that is where Real Love is demonstrated for us.
©2016, Christine Johnson