No other word in the English language has so many varied definitions or evokes more feelings as the word “love.” For example, I regularly hear people say things like “I love this chair” and “I love this food” or “I love this floor wax” or “<insert object here>.”
But, how do you love a floor wax? How do you love a chair? How can I *possibly* use the same word to describe my feelings for my daughter, my mother, or you, that someone else uses to describe a pair of sandals?
It’s no wonder there are wars and poverty and murder and hate… In our world today, “things” are more valued and worthy of our love than people! And today in America, right here — right now — the diseases of hate and anger are far more destructive than any virus could possibly be. Just stop for a moment and take a hard look at what we’re doing to each other… is there even a word to describe it appropriately?
I don’t think there can be a more appropriate Gospel for us right now than the one we read today (Mark12:28-34). A scribe asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replies, “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. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30 & 31)
Even after 2000 years, Jesus sets us straight. He quotes the most sacred statement of Jewish belief, the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4), reminding us that our deepest love is reserved for God, and God alone. Then He goes on to point out that we are called to reveal our love for God in the way we treat others.
Now just wait a minute, Jesus, “this saying is hard: who can accept it?” (John 6:60) You mean I have to love that gal that just cut me off on the freeway? I have to love that man who’s begging on the freeway off-ramp? The spouse who betrayed me, or the friend that deeply hurt me? No way, Jesus. These people are flat-out not at all worthy of my love.
Here’s the thing… Treating the other person with Love has just about nothing to do with their worthiness of your Love. Jesus proved that with the very first strike of the hammer that sent a spike through his flesh and bone. It’s really about our ability to take the love God has showered on us so abundantly –- even wastefully –- and share it with all those people… all those who cut us off. All those who are homeless, “dirty,” and outcast. All those who have betrayed us. All those who hurt us.
All those who are the faces of Christ.
OK, God. I hear Your call to love. Where should I start?
How about remembering the first two words of the Greatest Prayer?
Dear Lord, thank you for the great gift of your incredible, unconditional love for us.
Please, grant me the grace to give even just 1% of that love to every person I see.
Especially that dummy over there… and even that big dummy I see in the mirror. Amen.
Peace and love to you today, and forever.
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the retreat team at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center.