"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Are you sick of hearing about love?

Like much of what Jesus said, today's Gospel reading is often, because conveniently, misunderstood. When it is sung that "they'll know we are Christians by our love," it is often understood that we shouldn't and won't make others uncomfortable, even angry, by confronting them with unpleasant truths they need to know. We should stick, as much as possible, to what feels good—or at least to what doesn't rock the boat. Frankly, I'm sick of that. So are most men.

It is true that such confrontations should be limited and carefully chosen. When they are not, they become counterproductive. But the objection to them isn't just that they are too frequent. The objection to them is principled: that it is arrogance, "judgmentalism," and thus anti-love, to call sins by their right names or to present without compromise the faith delivered once-for-all to the saints. Like many errors of thought, this one posits a false dichotomy between love for others and zeal for the truth. Whichever side of that dichotomy one favors, proceeding as if it were true is a sign of spiritual immaturity. And that is because, objectively, there is no such dichotomy.

Jesus was and is one of the three divine persons whose perfect unity is Love Itself; but he wasn't and isn't a "nice guy." He was warm and compassionate, to be sure; but he also denounced hypocrisy and humbug in the strongest possible terms, and the people whose hypocrisy and humbug he denounced knew exactly who they were. Indeed he outraged them; and the more powerful among them felt threatened enough to arrange his execution. He won for us a real chance for the eternal life, the paradise of which he spoke; but he also talked a lot about the burning pile of trash we would find ourselves in, forever, if we didn't adhere to the narrow way. And that applied to everybody, not just to the rich and powerful. Nobody seemed entirely comfortable with what he had to say. Even his closest friends didn't really get it until after he had risen from the dead. His love cost him enormously, and demands no less from his followers.

And so I echo my favorite among those priests who post their homilies on the Internet:

If you are sick of hearing about love during the Easter season, you don’t know what love is. If you are complaining about hippy-dippy priests who whine all the time about love from the pulpit, you don’t know what love is. If you think love is best expressed with chocolates or a Starbuck’s gift card or perhaps you think real love is best signified with a quickie in your dorm room, then you don’t know what love is. Love makes you. Love saves you. Love delivers you to the throne of the Most High! You are not loved b/c you deserve it. You are not saved b/c you’ve earned it. You were not created b/c God needs you. Your being, my being—we exist, gratuitously, without merit or debt b/c our God, in His Goodness, draws us out of nothingness and makes us body and soul. We exist in Love because of Love for Love so that we may return to Love to be Love forever. And this is sometimes a terrible pilgrimage—painful, disillusioning, exhausting and dirty. But, at the end, you will be the newest creature b/c you are now a new creature.
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