The readings for today focus on simple rules. These readings are presented to both direct and assure us. Just like children of all ages, we want to know what is expected of us (what are the rules to live by) and the limits (when will get us “in trouble”). The first reading clearly lets us know what not to do while the gospel directs us how to live our lives. The readings also indicate the need to spread the word and share the message of the Lord through preaching, praising, and living in the “right way.”
The reading from the Acts discusses the happenings in Antioch and the obvious problems that are there with some unofficial talk of rules. It is apparent that the first rules that were discussed in the area were not well received. We all experience such concern what we are told “new” or “revised” rules. We question who made up these rules and what is the meaning behind them. Most people do not balk at fair, understandable rules. By the end of the reading it is evident that those in Antioch are quite willing to live with the rules proposed in the letter from the Apostles. The truth is we don’t always get to question the rules and get re-consideration of what they should be in any aspect of our lives. However, it is through dialogue that we are able to explore the meaning and implications of rules in our lives including those related to our church and gain deeper understanding.
The gospel is a challenge. The commandment proposed is simple enough: love one another as I love you. Can we ever show that kind of unconditional love to another human being? It may be easy many days to show that love to those in our families (although sometimes that too can be a challenge!!). But imagine treating everyone that way. Two stories come to mind of trying to live that love.
Nearly 20 years ago I was about to travel to the Dominican Republic for the second time with Creighton University’s Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC). My children were 12 and 8 at that time. They were aware of where I was going and I had included them at the retreat between the years of my travel there. I wanted them to have a greater understanding of what ILAC was about and why I would leave them for two weeks to travel. My daughter even gathered things that she thought the children there would enjoy – her simplistic approach was that I was going to help the poor and she wanted to contribute as well. I remember with some pain, however, of being challenged by some as to what I was doing. I was questioned as to my dedication to my children and what I was thinking in taking this “medical missionary” trip. I even began to doubt myself and if I was neglecting my children and needlessly endangering myself as was inferred by others. I shared my misgivings with a friend of mine who was in his Jesuit formation. He reassured me that I was presenting a wonderful example to my children and living the love of God. He further supported my decision with saying what better action could I take then to live the gospel and show my children what the gospel means.
The other story is one presented during the Walk for Justice on Good Friday. The passage shared related the story of a priest traveling on a city subway. He observes along with others three men entering the subway, one of them unable to move on his own. The other two men get off at a subsequent stop and leave their companion behind. It is unclear as to whether or not he is wearing his collar but it is clear that the collar influences his decisions. As the story continues the priest watches as others depart and step over the “unconscious” gentleman. The priest arrives at his stop and knows he cannot step over this man like those before him. He cajoles someone on the subway to help him get the man to a bench in the station. The priest sees a police officer and putting money into the gentleman's pocket, the priest asks if he would be sure the man got home. The police officer is awed by the action and asks why anyone would do this. The priest in trying to be glib quickly replies something about getting extra credit for “The Final Exam.” Seeing that the officer is oblivious to his meaning, the priest mutters something about helping others.
Both of these stories convey the reality and challenge of truly loving one another and seeing beyond one’s self and the frailties of others. The directive is clear in our readings but actually living that directive presents many challenges. We must strive to reach out to others -- all others -- not just those we like and/or love. It is seeing the face of Jesus in the persons we interact with everyday or once in a lifetime. It is seeing through an entirely different lens than our own narrow perspective. Perhaps one of the most powerful role models for us in this regard was Mother Teresa. Her life was a reflection of living this commandment. These two quotes from her give us insight into the experience that we can hope to embrace:
It is a directive that we have opportunities to follow every day.
I know for myself that I am afforded more and more chances to live
this until I get it right. Each challenge in meeting someone and
trying to understand them is yet another opportunity.
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