May 15 reflection by Deacon Len

Friday, 5th week of Easter 05/15/20

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051520.cfm

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I have a fairly strong memory (considering the amount of elapsed time) of the first homily I ever heard on this Gospel passage. It clearly left a mark on me.  I would say I was about seven or eight years old.  I remember hearing the priest talk about loving someone to the point of being willing to die for them.  At that age, that’s pretty much a brand-new concept.  Self-preservation seems pretty natural and the idea of forgoing it for someone else takes some serious consideration.

Of course, at that age, I immediately considered my own family of origin.  I grappled with the concept of putting myself in danger for the sake of my mother, brothers and sisters.  (My father had already died.)  It didn’t take long for me to recognize that, yes, I could come to terms with that.  

As years went on that thought stayed with me each time I’d hear this Gospel.  It became easier to imagine “laying down my life” for other relatives, and even my friends; then my wife and eventually my children. 

Well, as chivalrous and brave as that all sounds, is that really what Jesus is calling us to do in this Gospel?  I mean, it makes sense.  He laid down His life for us, so we in turn, should be ready to do the same.  Although this is true, it’s too easy for us to dismiss this call by saying, “Ya, well if that situation ever comes up, I’ll lay down my life for ‘someone I love’”.  Mission accomplished.

No friends, I think it’s much more involved and maybe even more difficult than that.  This phrase is given to us in conjunction with the command, “Love one another, as I love you.”  Jesus doesn’t simply refer to someone special in our lives that we love.  He clearly calls us to love “one another”.  That kinda sounds like everybody.

At the risk of being repetitively redundant, I am going to restate my framework for the word “love” in the Bible.  With the prolific use of the word “love” in today’s society to mean a vast variety of emotions and desires, I think we need to understand what is meant by “love” in the Bible.   

First, I think it’s important to recognize what the opposite of love is. It’s not hate (another word getting some serious over use these days).  It’s selfishness.  The opposite of love is selfishness.  When we approach things selfishly, we are only concerned with how it affects me.  

Society even tells us to do this.  “YOU deserve…”  “You have a right to…”  “You are entitled to…”  We are absolutely inundated with advertisements, lawyers, activists, and politicians telling us what we “deserve”.  That pulls our heart toward selfishness, considering only our wants and needs.

Love is the opposite of that.  Love is when we consider the wants and the needs of others equally or even ahead of our own.  “Boy, I sure would like to have that, but how does that affect him/her?”  

We all do this at times.  I always think of the mother getting up for the 2:00AM feeding.  I’m going with she’d rather sleep.  And you know what, you could easily make the case that she NEEDS the sleep.  But, out of love and what is best for her child, she gets up and feeds the child depriving herself of her own wants and needs.  THAT is love.

There are many other examples of things we do and ways that we sacrifice out of love for another.  The original meaning of the word sacrifice is to make holy:  sacred=holy.  “For I, the LORD, am your God. You shall make and keep yourselves holy,* because I am holy. (Lev 11:44) When you sacrifice, you make things holy.

It is precisely this love that we are called to in today’s Gospel message.  We are called to always consider the wants and needs of others and how our actions and decisions affect those around us; and to sacrifice.

Sometimes, we even need to “lay down our life” for another.  We are called to forgo what we “deserve” in order to make things better for another.  We may need to give up our “right” to enjoy things the way we want them, so that someone else can have the things they need or want.  We do this willingly when we donate to good causes or tip a low wage worker who we feel “needs it more than we do.”  We call this charity.  Often charity is a true sacrifice.

And yet sometimes we find it difficult to let someone into our lane in traffic.  Or we find it ridiculous when we see a beggar on the ramp to the highway, so we look the other way.  Their way of life is infringing on my right to not be distracted and to be able to enjoy what I deserve.  

There are many more examples and ALL of them are frustrating.  But, Jesus call us to be charitable and to love one another at all times, that is to sacrifice and put the needs of others equal to or ahead of our own wants and needs.  He calls us to “lay down our life” or the way we want our life to go, for the benefit of others.

Never is this more difficult than in the current political environment.  Again, society encourages us to “resist” and to boldly attack those with whom we disagree politically.  I’m not asking anyone to change their political perspective, but a little charity toward those whose perspective is different than ours seems appropriate.  

After this long period of isolation, wouldn’t it be nice if we returned to a world where we missed social interaction so much that we truly loved one another?  Let’s take some time to pray over this Gospel message today.  Then, let’s contemplate what a society would look like where people loved one another; where people sacrificed and put the wants and needs of others equal to or above their own wants and needs.  And if we can imagine that, maybe we can be that.  Maybe we can live out the Gospel.

Good health, Blessings and Peace,

Deacon Len

lpenkala@st-raphael.com