What If We Dared to Love?

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

I’ve heard these words from today’s second reading four times now this weekend, and I’ll hear them again in another couple of hours. I’m visiting parishes throughout the deanery to track how well we’re doing rolling out the 2012 archdiocesan appeal, and it means hearing the Liturgy of the Word repeated enough times to hammer through the thickest of heads, like mine.

Paul was being rhetorical, but this weekend, in the United States, his question begs an answer. Lots of folks are against us Catholics right now. The administration, which frames us as obstacles in the path of universal health care. Editorial cartoonists and late-night comedians, who are having a field day pointing out our track record of hypocrisy. Combox dwellers, who are waxing eloquent–if misspelled and ungrammatical–on our ability to embody, simultaneously, irrelevant fuddyduddyness and implacable evil. Women, even many Catholic women, a million of whom plan to march on Washington to protest the war we have declared on them and their rights.

If God is for us, who can be against us? The question is, Who can’t?

There are many in the Catholic hierarchy and in the blogosphere who read this as proof that we are on the rightest of right tracks. Persecution, especially by the powers that be, is always easy to read as justification. After all, didn’t Jesus himself predict this?

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

So in a sense, the fact that so many are against us must be proof that God is for us . . . right? The fact that we are feeling persecuted must mean that we are righteous . . . correct? That Them v Us military model works for a lot of people, even those who have never been closer to actual combat than the pages of Dumas or the latest reboot of Medal of Honor. But what if we have it wrong?

At the risk of having my name jump to the top of my own side’s persecution list, I am wondering, as I hear those words of St Paul over and over, whether we might not read that question as an examination of conscience this Lent. If God is for us, we might ask, why are so many against us?

Do liberal Democrats hate us because they are morally bankrupt babykillers who care more about buying the votes of the poor with entitlement programs than actually addressing real injustice? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

Do people who don’t experience themselves as heterosexual hate us because they are moral lepers, unnatural and disordered, who can never participate in committed relationships or family life? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

Do women hate us because they are second-rate humans who are envious of the male power they will never be able to possess, in the Church or in the world, and because they are essentially incapable of being anything other than an occasion of sexual sin unless they are consecrated virgins or married mothers? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

Do people of other faith traditions–or of no faith tradition whatsoever–hate us because their beliefs or lack of them are so pitifully inferior to our Truth that they have nothing to say to us? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

In that same Sermon on the Mount when Jesus talked about being persecuted for the sake of righteousness, he also described very clearly what our response to our enemies, our persecutors, the haters, should be:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

What if we dared to love those who have become our enemies–whether we call them adversaries or sinners or heretics? And I mean really love, not just tolerate with thinly disguised distaste. Not just love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin love, which turns out to be no kind of love at all. More than the “tough love” that excludes and condemns and vilifies “for your own good.” I mean love that looks like love, feels like love, to both the giver and the receiver: open, forgiving and asking forgiveness, willing to listen, aimed at making the other happy and healthy and safe and welcome.

I mean love that feels like the hand of Jesus raising the tear-stained face of the woman with the bad reputation. Love that feels like the strong shoulders of the shepherd carrying home the lost sheep. Love that looks like the hated centurion seeing his beloved servant come back from the dead. Love that sounds like the whole town coming to lunch at the shunned and lonely tax collector’s house. Love that sees the other, and is impossible not to see. “Children, let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18)

Signs of that kind of love have been sorely lacking in our long history of timidly clinging to law, and in our recent forays into public discourse. (I am as much a part of that priggish “our” as anybody, as my friends can attest.) Moral and doctrinal principles are well and good, but unless they are incarnated in our relationships with flesh-and-blood people–people who sin, as we all do, most often out of the deep brokenness of believing themselves unloved–they are sounding brass and clanging cymbals.

If we come from love, I am starting to wonder, will the HHS mandate truly be the Calvary we want to die on? Would we not have done better to engage a Sandra Fluke in a real and loving conversation about why she said what she said on Capitol Hill than to have contributed–as we did, directly and sinfully–to Rush Limbaugh’s hateful caricaturing of her? If we have any moral high ground left after our butchery of the abuse scandals, is this where God is calling us to spend it? The Church might still–I might still–come to say yes to the first and third of those questions, and no to the second, but I believe Lent calls us to make damn sure that’s what we mean to do.

“In the evening of our life,” wrote St John of the Cross, “we will be judged on love alone.” Maybe that’s what this New Evangelization thing is all about, and why this is all happening now. What difference would it make if our love were as public, as political, as visible and tactile, as headline-making, as undeniable as our principles? What if, instead of tithing mint and rue, we lived God’s infinite providence? What if we lifted burdens instead of laying them? What if new generations were to say, “See how these Christians love us all!”

If God–who is Love–is for us, it will be because we love as he does. And as Paul says, who could be against us then?

  • Billy

    I can't disagree with your overall point. Yet somehow, we must tell the truth. Is there a nice way to say "generation of vipers?" Probably so, but what if that is the truth?It's too easy to hide behind "I'm just telling the truth." What I do know is that in certain Protestant circles, you know you are really in for it when someone comes to speak "the truth in love" to you, even if (say 6 months later), you can see that your friend did speak the truth in love to you.We forget (at least, I do) that it isn't just truth. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." it's easy to emphasize one or even 2 of those elements at the expense of the others and at the expense of love. I don't think telling uncomfortable truths can be avoided. We should probably pray for the grace to present them in the best way possible, but it may still sound harsh.I do not mean to be harsh but I've never been all that good at being less than harsh in my expression, especially when I'm tired and cranky. I bet I'm not alone in this. I guess I can only continue to struggle and pray.Thank you for yet another sterling post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06767838116702355734 Joanne K. McPortland

    Thank you, Billy. And I know that love, real love, often speaks hard truths. Jesus said Go and sin no more, but only after he had seen and loved and called the sinner into relationship as a person, not a category. That's the step we–I–skip, especially when we're convinced of our righteousness and the other's wrong. Let's struggle and pray together for more love all around.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yimcatholic/ Frank Weathers

    Great post. It does make me think of this quote, from Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, when the protagonist, for the sake of love, grounded in truth, finds himself ostracized for standing up for what is right, for the sake of his fellow men, and is rejected by the majority of the same.Was the majority right when they stood by while Jesus was crucified? Was the majority right when they refused to believe that the earth moved around the sun and let Galileo be driven to his knees like a dog? It takes fifty years for the majority to be right. The majority is never right until it does right.Our arguments are based on love. What we must do, then, is embrace persecution like this,So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.We must be of good cheer, while sharing the Good News because it is indeed true, good, and beautiful.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post. It is impossible to argue with the main point. This is a fundamental teaching of Christ. I read in Matthew this morning about Christ "cleaning" the temple of the money changers. He acted out of love for His Father and for the people who come to the temple to seek God. He was also trying to get a message across to the money changers out of love for them. Possibly he framed the message in the way he thought they would best hear it.The idea of love the sinner but not the sin can be very hard to put into practice. I am certain that I have a log in my eye when I see the faults of others. The tricky bit is to love the other and not let them send themselves to Gehenna because we didn't try to help them. Most the time we need to demonstrate our faith through love as you say without question. Sometimes we need to tip over the money changers tables. As an engineer reading the Bible it is probably about 20 times we need to love for every table knocking over which supports your point. I would very much like to hear more of your thoughts on the physical expression of your theme here. How do we live the Love? I pray for Mr. Limbaugh, Ms Fluke and the singer that was so offensive at the Grammys that they will all feel Christ's Love and not first think of their own ego and wants. I think it is time for me to read the "Screwtape Letters" again. This always helps me examine my conscience.Thanks for the post.