November 4, 2018

There have been times when I am driving, especially on the freeway, and the traffic suddenly slows down. And sometimes, out of frustration I ask myself, or even say aloud, “What’s the holdup?” Most of the time, the cause of the slowdown is apparent: there’s been an accident, or some of the lanes have been closed, or the state troopers are out, or some other reasonable explanation. But there are times when I cannot for the life of me see why the traffic slowed down, and all of a sudden it picks up again. I couldn’t tell you what the holdup was.

In the light of recent violence and many people wondering about the seriousness of the divisions in our country and in many other places in our world, our Gospel reading presents the two basic commandments of our faith. When a scribe asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment, He replies with the passage from Deuteronomy which we hear in our first reading: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Then Jesus goes further: “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Pretty basic, huh? On the wall outside my office there is a small poster with various expressions of the Golden Rule. Next to that is a print of a Norman Rockwell cover of a Saturday Evening Post, with a diverse group of people, with the Golden Rule printed. So, I asked myself, “What’s the holdup?” Why do we resist following the most basic commandments of our faith? How do we think that we can love God without loving our neighbor? So I thought of a few reasons:

  • Maybe we have trouble loving ourselves, or accepting God’s love for us – I know this can be true for many of us at one time or another.
  • Maybe we want to choose who our “neighbor” is – Jesus answered this with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • Maybe our love depends on whether the other loves us.
  • Maybe we think hate works to our advantage.
  • Maybe we think fear is the safest response.
  • Maybe we’ve decided or resigned ourselves to thinking that violence and/or greed are the only things that work.
  • Maybe we think that we know better than God.

As long as we believe that “your gain is my loss,” or “my safety requires your exclusion or imprisonment,” it will be hard to follow the commandments Jesus gives us. I also know that before I start pointing fingers at everyone else, I need to look at myself. Is there a way to come back to love? For us Christians, I think it starts with remembering what Jesus did out of love for you and me and everyone. Do we remember that God created us all out of love? I am a proponent of listening. We need to hear each other’s stories before we rush to judgment and condemnation. I know it sounds so “Kumbaya,” but I know of no better way than to take the risk and form relationships, especially with people across the divide, i.e., to do what Jesus did. Join a dialog group. Form one. Let the dialog lead to constructive action. Help others by volunteering. Believe me, I know it is nowhere near easy, and I haven’t arrived at a perfect solution, but I don’t want to be part of what’s holding up obeying the commandment to love.

In Christ,

Fr. Phil, CP