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home : bishop : columns

12/10/2015 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Love is easy? Think again
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


I have heard it said that the standard our Lord Jesus will use to judge us in the end is how much we have loved throughout our life. It makes sense, then, for us to be sure we know what love is -- and that we are doing that loving.

Since St. John tells us that "God is love," then we only need to look to Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, to see what love looks like in human flesh. If we pay close attention to everything Christ said and did, we will see nothing but a consistent series of loving choices.

What are they? The Scriptures say little about Jesus laughing, jumping, clapping, kissing or hugging -- though we can be pretty sure He did all these things at appropriate times in His life. We do read that He was capable of the deepest emotions: passionate zeal, empathy, sorrow, anger, anguish and joy. Jesus even wept.

None of these feelings or expressions of feeling, however, would necessarily distinguish Him from His contemporaries or from us. These are things most all of us have engaged in to some degree, and no doubt still do in proportion to our ability, need and inclination.

Love can be expressed through many of these gestures, but not necessarily. A kiss, for example, could be a sign of deep love, but also an excuse for pure self-indulgence or worse. Judas, after all, betrayed Jesus with a kiss.

What stands out about Jesus are His constant actions of healing, forgiving and seeking out the lost and marginalized: lepers, prostitutes, the demonized and people with physical and mental afflictions. He was always "dirtying Himself," if I may say it that bluntly, with the dregs of society -- lifting up those whom class, economics, disease, sex, past history or stereotyping had somehow diminished.

He spoke to them, touched them and lifted them up. He did all these things, it seems, not because He "had to," but because He wanted to.

Jesus owed no one anything -- yet He treated people as if it were He who owed them respect, attention and care. Many of the people whose lives Jesus entered were outcasts and derelicts, regarded by everyone as unattractive, unapproachable and unredeemable. He reached out to them, made them whole and reintroduced them into the company of human society.

In the end, He sacrificed His own life for all sinners -- treated as a criminal, yet willing to suffer for the sake of His persecutors.

Why did Jesus do all this? to feel good? I doubt it. So many people assume that this is what love is all about: feeling good. This would make "love" seem so easy and cheap. If someone makes me feel good, then I must be in love. If I can make someone else feel good, then I am a good lover.

On the other hand, did doing what Jesus did give Him great joy? I have no doubt. Even in the midst of His suffering, Jesus was always aware of His union with His heavenly Father -- even though He felt abandoned in His human flesh -- and this complete confidence in the Father's love and in His love for the Father gave Him the strength and the passion to fulfill His mission.

What does this tell us about love? Love is not cheap. It costs. The essence of love is sacrifice: giving completely of oneself for the good of the other.

This is what Jesus did all the time, day in and day out. His actions were always conscious decisions to do whatever the good of the other demanded. Sometimes, that might mean telling an inconvenient truth - but always with charity. Other times, it could mean correcting a toxic pattern of thinking or of acting.

It always involved taking time, great patience and gentleness. Jesus was not a bully, a manipulator or an intimidator. He never recited the faults of others behind their backs. Nor did He pile on anyone's misery by making them suffer, as people "in love" often do to those they feel are failing them, being ungrateful or unresponsive to them or their needs.

Jesus did not try to guilt others or have them "make up" by doing favors for Him. The only thing He asked of those who loved Him was to love others as He loved them.

If "love" has not always worked out for us the way we hoped or wanted, it might be worthwhile to question some of our notions about what love really is. If it really is just a feeling, then we are all on very shaky ground. Feelings can come and go, like that occasional springlike weather we might have for a few hours in the middle of winter.

To think that love is something we "fall" into does not give much space for our freedom. If there is no freedom in love, it is just a drive or an impulse. How could we ever be sure anyone is really loving us and not just "responding" to their own feelings today, which may or may not be there tomorrow? Far better to trust in that love which flows from the will to choose only what is good, whatever the cost, and uplifting, whatever the burden. Look to the cross and you can find it all.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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