24 February 2014

Love and (of?) Shamrock Shakes

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
On 11 February of this year, Bishop John Doerfler was ordained and installed as the 13th bishop of Marquette, and 12th successor of the Venerable Frederic Baraga, in Marquette.  Being the church junky that I am, I watched some of it online.  And I caught his opening words as the newest bishop, his pastoral plan for the diocese: be a friend of Jesus; make a friend; introduce your friend to Jesus.  Pretty easy to remember these three points: be a friend of Jesus; make a friend; introduce your friend to Jesus.
            I’m not as good with sound bites as Bishop Doerfler.  I could only keep my homily to four points, not three.  But the first and the last one are the same, so hopefully it’s not too challenging.  My four points are: love the person; do not condemn; call to conversion; love the person.  Did we get that?  Love the person; do not condemn; call to conversion; love the person.
            That is certainly the message of today’s readings, though the Word of God expresses it better than I do: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we heard the Book of Leviticus say from our first reading.  First, of course, we must actually love who we are, not with the egotistical, self-centered, narcissistic love that our culture promotes, but with the realization that we are created in the image and likeness of God and so are basically good, even though we suffer under the effects of desiring what we should not want to do, what we call concupiscence.  But if we realize that we are in the image and likeness of God, then and only then can we treat others like we treat ourselves.  Love the person.
            The Gospel continues with Jesus telling us how God loves those who don’t love Him, and that we are called to the same.  He lets his sun shine on the bad and the good, and lets the rains fall on the just and the unjust.  God does not condemn the person.  He does not approve of evil or unjust deeds, but He does not condemn the person as soon as they fall into sin.  Instead, He continues to love them.  Do not condemn.
            To what end?  Why would God love someone who has turned away from Him?  Why would God give good things to those who deserve bad?  He showers His love on them so that they might be changed by His love.  The cliché way of saying this is: “God loves us as we are—but too much to let us stay that way.”  God loves us even though we turn away from Him in sin, but His love that He continues to give us is meant to encourage us to return that love and choose Him rather than sin.  Call to conversion.
            This is the part that our society really has a problem with.  We’re all too ready to say that God loves us.  We’re all too ready not to be condemned by God.  But when it comes to conversion, we shrink back.  We have fallen into the error that loving a person means loving everything that person does.  That is not how God’s love works, and therefore it’s not how our love as followers of God should work. 
Let’s say I had an evil twin, who was the antithesis of who I am, sort of the Bizarro Fr. Anthony (if you don’t know Superman, that probably didn’t make sense).  And let’s say Bizarro Fr. Anthony is just a very angry man and his anger overflows one day because McDonald’s just ran out of the shamrock shake and he didn’t get to enjoy one at all (this is not a true story, just in case you’re wondering), and so he kills the McDonald’s employee.  Does God still love Bizarro Fr. Anthony?  Yes!!  If God didn’t love Bizarro Fr. Anthony, Bizarro Fr. Anthony wouldn’t exist.  But God does not love the murder that Bizarro Fr. Anthony just committed, even if McDonald’s did just run out of shamrock shakes.  The same goes for any sin with any person.  God loves us, but he doesn’t love everything we do.  We, too, can love the person without loving everything they do.  Don’t believe me?
None of you would probably call Pope Francis a hateful person, full of bigotry.  In fact, I would guess that if we had to come up with one word that described Pope Francis, that word would be: loving.  And yet, in the interview Pope Francis gave to a Jesuit priest in September, Pope Francis stated that the Church’s teaching on abortion, gay marriage, and artificial contraception is clear.  Does that mean he does not love certain people?  Of course not!  Pope Francis loves us all!!  And he is an image, an icon, if you will, of Jesus’ love, which is fitting since he is the Vicar of Christ.  And he is teaching us how to love a person without loving everything they do.  And the key is that we love people, not just at the beginning, but throughout, even when we disagree with them, even if they do things with which we cannot agree because Christ has taught us otherwise.  We love them, because God loves us, even when we do things which God does not agree with, and which He taught us not to do, no matter how big or how small.  That is why the fourth point is as same as the first: love the person.
Jesus summed up the law and the prophets in two commandments: love God with all of who we are, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Everything the Church teaches as true and part of our faith stems from those two commandments.  As we seek to live those commandments out we try with all our strength to love the person; do not condemn; call to conversion; love the person.