Monday, November 12, 2012

What is Love? Baby don't hurt me.

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.

Love is such a ubiquitous word, especially for English speakers. We love pie (or cake), we love our friends, our girlfriends, we love our country and we love getting off work early. We love our God. But even though we use the same word for different things, we don’t think that the love we have for pie is the same kind of love we have for God or girlfriends (though I may love pecan pie more many girlfriends…)

Because we have one word that covers so many things, it’s hard to know what people mean when they use it. When they use love as a philosophy and say things like: “We should just love other people,” the question should be “what kind of love?”

Jesus did said “love thy neighbor,” but he had a very specific idea in mind. He taught that there are two commandments based on love: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind,” and “love thy neighbor like thyself.” The second commandment is like the first, because the first says that love is giving everything to God, our entire selves. If we give that kind of love to our neighbor, it makes sense that we would love our neighbor like ourselves. They have part of us with them.

Love means gifting ourselves to others. It’s not a desire, or an appreciation, or tolerance. To love like Jesus tells us to is to share openly and be vulnerable; it means investing ourselves in others in ways that they may use to hurt us later. That is why there is an ethic to love.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, love implies a duty, a call to action. We are called to relationship, and to ignore a stranger in need is to ignore a brother or ignore yourself. Being called to love means that the people we meet have the capacity to receive that love; it means acknowledging the humanity in one other, the spark of God we share between us.

Love also entails a responsibility. When we sin and fall short of God, we harm ourselves. We are who we should be when we are at our best, and that best is when we follow God. This is why Jesus tells the apostles that when a brother sins against you, show him his fault between the two of you. If that does not work, bring a friend, and if that still doesn’t work then bring him before the elders of the church. If none of these succeed in correcting your brother, then expel him from the community. We have a responsibility to convert the world because the Christian life is the truest and leads to the person God intends for us to be. When our brothers and sisters in Christ fall short, love impels us to correct them. The tough love we are commanded to show other Christians is only tough because salvation is so serious. If they profess to want it, they should not be accepted as they are, but as they should be.

When people use “love” they usually mean “tolerate” or “accept.” They mean that we shouldn’t judge other people, or impose our own beliefs. Many people use “love” as a way to remain impartial or take no sides, but that kind of love means loving other people no more than cake or pie. I accept them as they are, without requiring change.

But a love that means relationship, where people hold parts of our heart, soul, and mind requires more than that. That intimacy requires duty, responsibility. We can hurt each other too easily. This is what marriage is: a promise before God and the Church to hold in trust and commitment the gift of self our spouse is making. This is why sex outside of marriage is so damaging, because we love and give ourselves to each other with abandon, and that gift is so often betrayed.

Love is a holy thing. It should be treated as such, with all the respect, awe, responsibility, cherishment, and grace it deserves. It is hard to be in relationship with all people, but love demands we be open to that. It is hard to demand people change when we say we love them, but if we demand the best from ourselves we cannot do less for others. It is hard to honor the love between us correctly, and we hurt each other too much.

But this is the love that Jesus models for us, the love that loved perfectly but suffered, that accepts our wounds against him and loves us still. Love in the world is raw and tender, but it is the greatest gift we are given.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus is the redemption and glorification of the original promise.

In the first reading we see the creation of man and woman, the first husband and wife. Out of all of creation there is no one who is a suitable partner for man but woman, and together they are more than just partners, they are one flesh. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife.” The original promise of marriage, the mystery of the union, is the promise of finding what is lacking in each other and binding the incomplete halves together so tightly that one would think no more of separating from their spouse than they would their body.

We’ve lost that in time since. By the time of Moses, Paradise had fallen and divorce was already necessary because of sin. With sin, the original promise of Eden is lost and impossible to find. But Jesus is our redemption and our salvation. Because “for a time he became little lower than the angels” and gave himself for our sins, Jesus has made perfection possible again. The grace that lives inside of us because of Christ Jesus makes the impossible possible.

This is the redemption of the promise that Christ makes possible again, that we do not need divorce because of Christ’s grace. But Christ has also transformed everything under the law and made it better. He said “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it,” and he has done no less with marriage. We see this in the Church; no longer are we just man and woman, but we are also brothers and sisters in Christ. The consecrated religious do not find a suitable partner among men and women, but give their hearts and lives to God and the Church. What is lacking in ourselves we have found in Christ, and we leave our mothers and fathers to cling to the Rock our savior.

The Psalmist tells us “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants around your table.” Christ is the fruitful vine, and the converts we bring into the church are our children. This is how Paul addresses the churches in his letters, and how the new spiritual family is born. Priests minister to their congregations like a father to sons and daughters, and all of us lay people disciple each other.

We are no longer bound by ordinary flesh and blood. The body Christ gave for the world has superseded the rib that Adam sacrificed for Eve. In Heaven there will be no giving and taking in marriage, because everything that we lack we will find in God. On earth Christ has redeemed ordinary marriage because of his grace, but the consecrated religious show us the marriage of Heaven, the redemption and glorification of the original promise in Paradise.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fictional Violence vs. Real Life Tragedy

How do we enjoy The Dark Knight Rises after the shooting in Aurora?

It’s an open question. I don’t have an answer, only gut reactions from watching the movie less than a day after 12 people were killed and 50 wounded by a psycho. Last night, James Holmes turned the premiere of TDKR into a massacre when he walked into a theatre and started shooting during one of the movie’s many gunfire scenes. At first, people outside couldn’t distinguish between the real gunfire and the movie; some inside thought the gun sounded like “popping balloons.”

For me, I couldn’t enjoy it. TDKR is a technically great movie; the plot is engaging, the acting incredible, and the world building extraordinary. But it is also an incredibly dark film, and the violence not only explicit but casual. Because of the extreme realism, each death is visceral and painful. With Aurora still fresh in my mind, it was too real.

I watched the theatre hallway during the shooting scenes. I was jumped once a few years ago, and now I’m paranoid enough that I can all too easily picture random acts of violence. Between the realism, Aurora, and my own experience, watching TDKR was an extremely uncomfortable experience.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for a movie like this. I’m not even saying it’s too violent. But I am saying that watching the movie after a real life tragedy felt more than a little tone-deaf, and I couldn’t put an appropriate distance between what was fiction and what could be only too real. I didn’t need Bain as a symbol of evil; I already had that in Holmes.

I’m open to other interpretations. It may be that in a few years I would enjoy the film for what it is, a great work of fiction. Maybe I just need the time to inure me to what the fictional deaths would be in reality. Maybe TDKR is a peacetime movie, and it’s good that many people have little enough experience with violence that the movie doesn’t bother them. But right now I can’t do it.

Does anyone else have other thoughts?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Private Charity vs. Social Sharing

I think that we Christians have the wrong idea about what charity is supposed to be.

Take “Obamacare;” one of the main reasons given for opposing it, is that it puts a legal mandate on charity. We believe that we should take care of the poor and the sick, but many people feel that this is something that should be done freely on a personal level. We can’t, or shouldn’t, mandate people through taxes to take care of others.

This makes a lot of sense. We are born with free will, and charity should be freely given. But it sets up a false dichotomy that hurts us as Christians: it says that there are rich, and there are poor, and those who have should give to those who do not have. This is not Christianity.

In today’s second reading, Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also.

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.

As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.”

As Christians, we strive not just for the relief of the poor, but for equality with them. Private charity, where we give to the poor from our abundance, does not embrace equality but sustains injustice, because we give a little but keep a lot. Private charity relies on the dichotomy between rich and poor, but justice seeks to abolish it.

There are many things wrong with Obamacare. How much it will cost is unclear, it includes the unjust HHS Mandate, and it gives tacit support to abortion providers. And we should fight those things. But it is, in its idea, a profoundly Christian attempt to bring justice to charity. It seeks to make all citizens equal, who will all share health care in their abundance, and share health care in their need. Charity should not be the rich burdened by the poor, but an exchange of giving and receiving among brethren. Whether it’s realized or not, our current system burdens the “rich,” because we still provide care to the poor through emergency rooms and free clinics. Sharing health care like Obamacare intends seeks to ease the burden by having everyone share the cost.

The pinnacle of Christianity is not charity. It is solidarity, where barriers are broken down between believers. The Acts of the Apostles describe early believers holding “all things in common.” What Jesus taught was not charity, but social sharing. Our God is the God of life, and of justice, and we should embrace those things that embrace both life and justice.