The headline for an article I read recently was “Love — are we up to the challenge?” Clearly this is the focus of this week’s Scripture — specifically in the Gospel of John where he states Jesus’ challenge to us is to love one another as he has loved us! Jesus further states that the way he will know us is how we have loved each other. Whew, that is a challenge.
This kind of love starts at our own front door. Imagine the feelings of a new people entering your church for the first time. Do the ushers greet them with a handshake and welcoming greeting or just a nod and a wink? When they get to the pews, are they acknowledged and welcomed or stared at and ignored altogether? The love that Jesus is demanding of us isn’t just for those we hold dear to our hearts. We are asked to stretch ourselves into the uncomfortable. Even Paul and Barnabas had to bear the burden of controversy in their love for the Gentiles, something unheard of in Jewish society at the time.
At my parish the stained glass windows depict the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy and are a constant reminder of this great love. The corporal works — you know, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, to name a few, are the visible, are the works most visible and most easily handled. Every church I have ever entered has a “poor box” for monetary donations and receptacles for donations of food, diapers, etc., as well as seasonal drives for clothing and toys. We do well with these works of mercy.
It is the spiritual works — forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, admonish sinners, etc., that really puts us to the test. In this love we are called to forget our petty little arguments, be forgiving, turn the other cheek and pray for both the living and the dead. There is a phrase in the Confiteor that comes to mind — “through my fault” — oops, was that me? Did I neglect to forgive someone or was I the offender who must seek forgiveness. This is the hard test of love that will catch us up and bring us to our knees, literally. By kneeling at the sacrament of forgiveness and the altar of love, and receiving the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice we are strengthened to live out this challenge of true love that will define us forever.
Challenging? You bet! It is one thing to give of our goods and treasures, but quite another to go beyond and give of ourselves, no matter how painful and scary. But what an opportunity to show what love is all about! The next time that we extend our hands at the sign of peace, think about those hands we shake and eyes we meet in the exchange. See Jesus in that face and you will know what real love is. But, if your journey to love unconditionally has yet to find its path, remember that “poor box.” You’ve made the first step.
Wettstein is director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.