Blessedness and brokenness within us all

By Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. | For The Compass | October 21, 2020

Over the last several months, a couple of my Norbertine brothers and I have joined with a group of friends to read and discuss some of the classics of Russian literature. Together we have found ourselves immersed in 19th century Russia; we have journeyed this foreign land through the pages of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov,” and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”

Through methodical character development, creative plot twists and in depth exploration of the prevailing philosophical and political worldviews of their day, these revered authors have invited us into serious contemplation of the human condition. In so doing, we have encountered doubt and faith; love and betrayal; sin and forgiveness; belief and despair; hope and redemption and have developed a deep awareness of the complexity of the human person. Particularly, the grittiness and dynamism of their characters reveal the hero and the villain, the blessedness and the brokenness that dwells within all of us.    

On this 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the blessedness and brokenness within all of us, we are commanded by Christ to “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” (Matthew 22:37-39). As simple as these commands initially sound, our lived experience might echo the words of Dostoyevsky in “The Brothers K”: Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” And we certainly witness this dreadful love in the life, ministry, crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.  In other words, it may be true that, from time to time, love is dreadful, but like Christ, we are called to love God and love our neighbor without counting the cost. 

If these days find you not knowing where to start loving God and loving neighbor without counting the cost, I leave you with these words of inspiration from Dostoyevsky’s Fr. Zosima: “Love man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”

Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned master of divinity and theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

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