Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Law of Love

Mt 22, 34-40
Once again Jesus is confronted with His adversaries who attempt to catch Him in His speech. The scholars of the Law ask Him to give His opinion on what was for them a controversial subject: which was the greatest commandment? Jesus gives them an answer full of divine wisdom: love God with everything you have within you. Then He goes on: love your neighbor as yourself. Who is this neighbor? In another gospel text, Jesus answers this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. I do not know what word Jesus used in Aramaic which has been translated “neighbor”, but in the Latin, the word is “proximum”, from which we get our English word “proximate”. In other words, my neighbor is the one who is proximate to me, next to me, in front of me. Oh, yes, it is easy to love the poor people in China or Libya, and we ought to do that, but to love the one who is here and whose needs demand my attention, is sometimes much more difficult. Being faithful to this law from the Old Testament prepares us for receiving the New Law of Love which Jesus will give us on the night He was betrayed and who will exemplify it by His death on the Cross the next day: love one another as I (Jesus) have loved you. Transcend yourself; love another to the point of sacrifice; lay down your life for the sake of the other.
While the two laws of love from the Old Testament are hard enough, the new law is absolutely impossible to keep without the light and strength of the Holy Spirit that only comes to us from our being incorporated into the Paschal Mystery. Sometimes God is good enough to show us this through personal experience. A few years ago, our eldest Sister fell during the night and I accompanied her to the emergency room. It was finally revealed that she had cracked her pelvis and needed to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. By the time we had finally settled her in her room, it was about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I was very glad to lie down on the couch prepared for me. But as soon as I got comfortable, Sister cried out, “Help me!”. I got up. What did she want? A drink of water. Then again, “Help me!” Fix her blanket. Each time I lay down she called. After about the fifth time my patience had run out. My body was screaming for sleep. Could she not do these little things for herself and leave me alone? I knew the answer, but I was angry and wanted to tell or at least show her how she was imposing on me. I knew it was wrong and I grabbed the bars of her bed to try to resist the temptation. As I looked down at her, I tried to remember how much she was suffering, and to my horror I realized I did not care. I had come to the end of my own human love in the face of my own human need. Turning to the Lord in a wordless cry for help, I was given the grace to love with His love and to be patient one more time…one more time. The power to love manifestly did not come from me but from the Crucified and Risen Christ.

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