Learning to love

What is the longest river in the world? Gotta’ be the Nile River, right? It flows 1,700 miles from Khartoum, Sudan to the Mediterranean Sea – and that is just where the White and Blue Niles meet. You can follow the White Nile south to Lake Victoria bordering Uganda… and then the arguments begin on what is the source of any river. Clearly rivers, streams, and the like flow into Lake Victoria – do you get to keep following the water flow? Even as recently as 2006 the geographers and cartographers were seeking the “headwaters of the Nile River.”  The most recent claim is a muddy hole in Nyungwe Forest in southwest Rwanda. The forest area is spectacular, the muddy hole not so much. Personally, I would have taken Lake Victoria as the headwater.  Think about it: a great lake giving greatness to the greatest river.

Not so fast! Brazil and Peru have put their cards on the table and claim that the Amazon, measured from its most distant, year-round source, is 87 miles longer than the Nile. Take that mud-hole originating river! Supporters of the Nile supremacy note that the measure includes tidal canals that are not always filled – and besides, the mighty Nile covers 2,400 miles as the crow flies while the Amazon inelegantly meanders over only 1,100 miles as the crow flies.  And the arguments fly back and forth about which river is the greatest. As one side dismisses what they view as the feeble claims of their rivals, with a wave of the hand, they each employ the old pun: “Denial is the longest river in Africa.”

Denial lurks behind our gospel today. Jesus has forewarned his disciples three different times about the destiny awaiting him in Jerusalem where he will be betrayed, suffer, be crucified, and die. Each time the disciples are in denial about the fate that awaits their Lord; they are in denial about the suffering he will face. Jesus asks them, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  They boldly respond that they can – perhaps only revealing the denial in possession of them.

I think about Jesus’ response in this way: “Indeed, if you follow my way, you will indeed suffer … but don’t do it for the glory – besides that’s not mine to give. You had better pray for grace to be clear in your own mind why you are doing this because when it gets really difficult, that is what will sustain you.” It is that graced clarity that sheds light into the darkness of denial. It is that graced clarity that sustains you when it gets difficult to pick up and carry your own cross. That helps you “just do it” when you are asked to give it all away and follow the way of Christ. It is what allows you to persevere when you know that you will not be first, but will be dead last.  It is the graced clarity that sustains when denial has emptied itself and you are faced with the road of self-sacrifice and suffering.

  • At the bedside of an aging relative whose care will absorb your life.
  • The late at night, sitting at the kitchen table with bills to pay, mouths to feed, and a check book that does not stretch that far
  • The unexpected phone call comes that brings news your world will never be the same, never be what you had hoped for.
  • Haunted by the words spoken about you by your friend as you teeter between walking away and reconciliation.

Why don’t we walk away? Why do we stay? Inner fortitude? Commitment? Obligation? Promise? All good things, admirable things. Obligation can only take us so far. Taken too far, obligation for obligation’s sake can erode love and leave bitterness – and leaves us with just the suffering. So often love and suffering come along for the same ride.

Why do we stay? Why visit your loved one suffering from Alzheimer – they don’t remember you any more – your visit will make no difference. Why reconcile with someone who has taken advantage of you in hurtful ways? I think the answer is that in all these situations there is an opportunity to love. It may bring suffering. It might entail some loss. But then it might be love rooted in a new, renewed relationship, a new footing. It will take energy and time. And the journey and destination will be marked with obstacles and challenges.

We stay because we trust that the journey will teach us how to love. Will lead us past the grandeur of Lake Victoria to the true source of the living water. There we will find the living font of love coming into the world. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way…. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” 

Mercy for the times we did not stay, but walked away. Grace for the journey to keep the darkness of denial at bay and to keep us on the way.  Today at this way station of your journey, come to the throne of the Eucharist for that mercy and grace. Come and let your “Amen” be a prayer for the Grace that teaches us to truly love with clarity and purpose.

You just don’t get it

ADULT-MOTHER-DAUGHTER-TALKINGEver been in a conversation with someone – usually not an easy conversation – when the other person, exasperated with you, the conversation, or whatever just blurts out, “You just don’t get it, do you?”  ….and there it is… the end of the conversation.  Just a few words, well delivered that can kill  conversations or end relationships.

I suspect that along with exasperation, it can often be delivered with the characteristics that St. Paul warns us about: “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling [and] malice must be removed from you.” We might well add to his list: “You just don’t get it, do you?”  None of the above fulfills the proposal to “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” Continue reading

Loyal Love

In Exodus 34, God describes himself as overflowing with khesed, or loyal love. Khesed is a rich Hebrew word describing a love overflowing with generosity and born out of commitment to relationship. Khesed is shown through actions and deep personal care for another person even when they don’t deserve it. In the Bible, no one shows more khesed than God – it’s core to who he is. God creates out of khesed. He protects his people from disaster because of his khesed. He makes them prosper because of khesed. He forgives them in a display of khesed. God continually extends his loyal love to his people, not because they deserve it but because his love is generous.

The Bible Project is a not-for-profit ministry which provides an amazing treasure trove of videos on the Word of God. This coming Sunday the Catholic Church celebrates “Word of God Sunday” – so, perhaps this would be an apropos time to support Bible Project with a donation!

Our Fears

17 In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.

Verse 17 tells us how to have something everybody wants to have. And v.18 tells us how to get rid of something everybody wants to get rid of. We, of course, do not like to talk about fear. We do everything we can to be free from it. Yet fear is an essential part of human existence and, like it or not, some fear will accompany us, always and everywhere, until the end. Continue reading

The meaning of love

The God revealed in Scripture doesn’t just love, he is love. As a triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—he has always been and always will be an others-centered, self-giving, communal being. God so loved us, loved the world that he sent his only Son, Jesus, who fully embodies the love of God. That love was demonstrated most clearly when he gave his life on behalf of humanity. When people learn to trust Jesus’ love for them, they join in God’s community of life and love, and their very nature is transformed to live a life of love with him. In today’s video offering from the amazing folks at The Bible Project, you can explore the biblical meaning of love.

My Generation

Yesterday’s psalm refrain was “The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.” From that I asked the personal question, “Do you ever wonder if people think you are gracious, merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness?” Today’s gospel begins: “Jesus said to the crowds: To what shall I compare this generation?‘” In one sense, it is the same question just on a larger scale. And a complex question to even begin to form a response.

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The Power of Love

I, John, looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1) And so begins today’s readings.

In her story “Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor tells a tale of a vision of salvation being encountered by the smug Mrs. Turpin. Her idea was that heaven was an exclusive banquet with just a few guests. The story had told of her unpleasant encounters with the “unsaved” (aka “not like me”) during the day. Later while sitting on her front porch at sunset, Mrs. Turpin is granted a vision from God. Despite all her self-assurances and beliefs, she was about to discover that God’s invitation is for more than just her and those she deems of sufficient moral character and behavior.

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Love well understood

The word “love” is certainly the topic of poetry, minstrels, Hallmark cards, stories, and life. But what do the Hebrew Scriptures have to say about love? Several weeks ago I mentioned the prayer, the Shema, speaking about the word “hear” or “listen”:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength“. (Dt 6:4-5).

But a key part of that prayer is to “love the Lord” to “ahavah the Lord.” As the popular song asks, “What’s love got to do with it.” The answer is everything – if love is properly understood.

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Choice and becoming

This day’s gospel is a well known story of an encounter during which Jesus is asked: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus reply is clear and unambiguous:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

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Lent with a new lens

I was looking ahead on the parish calendar to see what the month of March would bring apart from the celebration of Lent. It was then I came across a simple marker “Mother’s passing.” It was four years ago now – hard to believe that much time has passed since my mom passed away. But that is the way of things as one grows older oneself; loved one are lost and time passes at an ever-increasing rate.

I am pretty sure I got my love of big band music from mom. She had several 78s of Tommy Dorsey (…and if “78s” is unknown to you, ask you grandparents…or great grands…or wikipedia). It was the music of her era. Continue reading