The Gospel by JN 13:31-33A, 34-35
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Jesus commands us to love one another. In today’s world that is a commandment that is difficult to accept and much more difficult to put into practice. There are people around us who are so hateful and so hurtful. Even when I try to love them and be nice to them, they tear me apart. In prayer I have asked Jesus: How can I manage to keep my faith and exercise acts of love and compassion without being hurt?
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Put in other words, Christ is so loving and his followers are not like him. In fact many times, when I am preaching, I ask people if they are trying to be saints? The response is always a big no. One woman accused me of preaching to priests and nuns, “we are not nuns, we cannot follow what you preach”, she said. The name Christians means followers of Christ, and a follower of Christ has to aspire to sainthood. If you do not want to be a saint, then you do not want to be a Christian. It is a radical thought introduced by Christ. In fact he said: be perfect like my father is perfect. That’s sainthood: is to pursue that perfection.
Today Jesus calls us to imitate him in his love. Yet, I am reminded of that woman’s comment, was she right? Maybe we are asking too much from people, how can I love my sister when she stole my inheritance? How can I love my son’s killer? Or how can I love the woman who sexually abused my child? These are hardcore cases. I even have heard people laughing at their enemy’s funeral. “I hope he burns in hell”, they say (All in the name of hatred and lack of forgiveness). Maybe, just maybe that woman was right, maybe loving others is too much to bear.
At the same time, I know that those people who have a hard time believing in forgiveness are also very hurt and vulnerable. We all have known someone whose pain is so deep that they are unable to think of anything else but revenge. What do you do with a person like that? What do you tell them?
The other day I met a person in his deathbed. He was imploring God to give him another chance. With tears in his eyes he asked me to pray to God for a miracle. In my heart I was so sad, I was in front of a man who wanted to live, but time was already gone and opportunities were no longer available. I would have loved to have the power to resurrect him and give him the years he needed to accomplish his task. But, then again, I thought of the many people who cruise life without thinking. They wait until the last moment to pray, the wait until the last moment to reflect on their lives. They wait until the last minute to realize that they had it all wrong.
The best way of making sure you are a follower of Christ is taking time to pray, but really pray. Take time to reflect on what he commands. Christ does not want you to follow his commandments as a law that one has to follow, but as a path that he has traced for you so you are free. So the day you are facing death, you can say freely “I have accomplished everything I came here to accomplish”. Funny, but most people I talk to do not know what that which they have to accomplish is. That is how clueless they are. But wait couple of years and when they are dying, they see clearly what they were supposed to do. Hopefully they can also say: and I did it, I did what was expected from me.
In reflecting the “why”, I realize that people need to learn to take care of themselves. I know that when I am angry, tired or sad, I have a hard time keeping God’s words. I cannot love my brothers and sisters, let alone my enemies, when I am tired, frustrated, angry and hurt. That means that I have to take care of myself. I have to be selfish at times. Selfish has a positive side to it as well. To be selfish is to think about yourself. There is the negative selfishness and the positive one. Thinking about me, is what I do in prayer, I pray because I want a better relationship with God. In a way that is selfishness – but the good one. I have to learn to say No, when I know that people are taking advantage of me. I have to protect my family and myself. That is also selfishness. Some people call it altruism. But, altruism is to do things for others, I am talking about doing things for yourself, so that when troubles hit, you are in a better mood to confront the situation without losing your peace.
When you have a canoe and a paddle, you cannot start learning how to row in the middle of the storm. You have to learn months before, years before the hurricane hit the waters. Anyone who does not know how to paddle will drown, or at least fall into the water, when the storms hits you. Even knowing how to paddle may at times gets you wet, but you have better chances to survive the storm when you know how to row.
Taking care of yourself means practicing how to row when the waters are clear and calm. It is learning how to row in peaceful times. Being selfish, means practicing prayer, reflection, meditations, taking time for long a walk through nature, speaking to God and going on an inner journey. A journey inside yourself. So next time you feel frustrated and angry, you are available to calm yourself, reflect and even forgive.
Those who are yelling with road rage are yelling because they have lost their patience with others. They judge others to be stupid and making stupid moves. But when you are at peace, you realize that you have made those same moves many times; then forgiveness and tolerance is a natural way to acknowledge that the other is just another you.
The Gospel on Sunday asked us to love one another. But you have to love yourself first. Let us ask our Lord to give us the insight of how to remain in his love in the midst of trouble and difficulties. Amen
Fr. Marc Angelo, PO Box 3414, Culver City CA 90231