Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Can I Love My Neighbor?

The priest at Monday’s mass said there are two crosses we all must carry before we can love our neighbor.  The first is our self, and the second is our neighbor.
He told a story of his youth to describe the first:  “My sister lost her favorite pen, and she was crying.  I loved my sister and so I helped her look everywhere for her pen, but I couldn’t find it.  So I hugged her and said: Please don’t cry.  We’ll find it soon.  And a little while later, she stopped crying; she had found her pen and was happy again, and so was I.”
“Then I noticed something:  I had lost MY pen.  And when I looked at my sister’s pen it had some markings on it just like my pen did.  That’s my pen, I said.  And then she started crying again.  So I said:  Please don’t cry.  I won’t take it from you.  You can keep it.  That’s okay.  And she looked at me, and stopped crying.  And that made me happy.”
“But that’s my pen, I said.  And the crying started all over again.”
“Even as a kid I couldn’t overcome my desire to get in the last word and to prove myself right.  But if we are to love our neighbor, that’s the first cross we must carry, the cross of our desires.  In order to love, we must put our happiness second, to theirs.”
“And the second cross we must carry is similar to the first.  I loved my sister, and over the years I’ve gotten better at putting her happiness before mine.  But no man is alone on an island, except perhaps Tom Hanks in that movie.  There are other people who we all meet who are not so lovable.  Mother Teresa found them covered with maggots dying in the street.  We find them in our stupid co-workers, our crazy neighbor and his dog who leaves his stuff everywhere, and in all those texting drivers and loud people in the grocery store.  Who can put up with those people, much less love them?”
“We can --- and should.  We are called to put our feelings about them second, to bear this cross of the miserable people they truly are, and to love them anyway.  There really aren’t that many truly lovable people in the world --- maybe not even that person in the mirror --- but Jesus said to imitate me, and love them anyway, to pick up our crosses, and to love them.
                        - - - - - - - - - -
Oh God.  Oh … God!  Why can’t I just die?
I was visiting a friend’s mother in the rehab clinic over the weekend.  In the bed next to her, a woman was drifting in and out of a restless sleep, and moaning in pain.  Ooooo … It hurts. …. If I could just have a sip of water …  And when I heard those words, I went over to her side, took her cup and put the straw to her lips.  Thank you, she said.  Her eyes opened slightly, and she looked at me.  I’m Tom, I said.  I’m Ann, she murmured.  I’m sorry to be a bother.  Old ladies like me just need to die.  I smiled at her and said:  Pretty ladies are never a bother for me.  And for a brief moment, she smiled, and then went back to sleep.
And in the days I’ve been going there, her pain and her grief have continued. 
And no one visits her.
                        - - - - - - - - - -
The deacon leading the Communion Service this morning spoke after the Gospel.  “Please pray for my brother-in-law,” he said.  “He died last night of a sudden heart attack.  It was a blessed death, though, because he was a priest and he died at a gathering of priests and medical people, and so he received the Last Rites, and comfort in his last moments.” 
But then the deacon continued: But he and I didn’t get along.  I’m very orthodox and he was very liberal, and we often disagreed on the importance of Church teachings.
And I thought:  The man has died.  You asked us to pray for him, and still you had to get in the last word about your feelings.  And I wished this deacon had heard the priest’s words yesterday, about bearing our crosses, and loving anyway. 
But,  ….sometimes we can’t conceive that some things are part of God’s plan, and perhaps I needed to hear the deacon’s words, to act as a reminder to me:  Loving our neighbor isn’t an easy thing --- for anyone.
As I left the Communion service, I was stopped by a woman entering the chapel:  Please pray for me, she said.  Things are very dark, and I don’t know what to do.  I’ve lost my job because of my depression.  My husband had lost his job because he’s going blind.  And now I have to sell our house and find somewhere else to go.  I hugged her and asked:  What help are you getting?  Do you have children?  She replied:  They think we should work this out ourselves.
I promised to pray for her, and asked her to email me details.  Perhaps there is more I might do, even if just to listen --- to love in some way, someone who so needs love.
A short while later, at the men’s prayer breakfast, the coordinator asked:  “Are there any prayer intentions today?”  When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned the plight of the two women, and I asked that we pray for those who feel alone and unloved.  “Everyone needs to feel loved,” I said.  The men agreed, and so we prayed for all of our various intentions.  But as we were praying, the prayer card from my mother’s funeral appeared in front of my eyes, and I recalled the earlier words of the priest on how love is given.
With the men, I prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be, but then I saw the prayer on my mother’s card.  How I wished we could have prayed THAT prayer.  It was not a prayer calling for the Father, or Mary, or the Trinity to love the people we prayed for.  It was a harder prayer, like the priest said, a prayer that we could bear our crosses, so that then WE could love them.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred let me show love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grand that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


  1. This morning I went to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and the gospel was Jesus feeds the four thousand. Father, in his homily, picked up that the gospel says Jesus had "compassion" (pity, mercy) on the crowd, and so fed them. From this he went into the genesis of the corporal works of mercy, that Jesus, in his compassion, gave food to the hungry, and in the great parable of the last Judgement, Jesus says to those on His right hand, come take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world, for when I was hungry... And they said, Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty?
    I thought of this, and you, imagined you standing at the right hand of God, and saying, but Lord, when did I see you thirsty, and give you to drink? Then you will see the image of the suffering lady in the bed in the nursing home.
    God bless you. That passage, and how you spoke to her with such a kind remark, really touched me. God bless. ~ Fran

  2. Thanks for prayers, Fran. I think the hard part for me to learn over the years is not the doing, but the listening for what He would have me do. It's hard getting past my will.

    Today is a charity golf outing for me all day, then packing and hitting the road tomorrow. I'm driving down to Tennessee to visit 3 people who have followed my blog, and over the years offered me great words of wisdom and empathy in my caring for my mom. I wanted to take the time to actually meet them, and tell them how much their lives mean. Most people, like that woman in the nursing home bed, don't hear it nearly enough, if at all. Then I'll be off to Ohio and the Steubenville Defending The Faith Conference next weekend. Might not be much blogging til then; but only God knows!

  3. Hope you have a good trip, and a very blessed time at the conference. I'll keep you in my prayers that you'll have a safe journey.
    God bless. ~ Fran