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     Love beyond naivete and romance


By Father Ronald Rolheiser

 (CatholicNews---Sunday Dec 4, 2011)


SEVERAL years ago, a Presbyterian minister I know challenged his congregation to open its doors and its heart more fully to the poor. The congregation initially responded with enthusiasm and a number of programmes were introduced that actively invited people from the less-privileged economic areas of the city, including a number of street people, to come their church.

But the romance soon died as coffee cups and other loose items began to disappear, some handbags were stolen, and the church and meeting space were often left messy and soiled.

A number of the congregation began to complain and demand an end to the experiment: "This isn't what we expected! Our church isn't clean and safe anymore! We wanted to reach out to these people and this is what we get! This is too messy to continue!"

But the minister held his ground, pointing out that their expectations were naive, that what they were experiencing was precisely part of the cost of reaching out to the poor, and that Jesus assures us that loving is unsafe and messy, not just in reaching out to the poor but in reaching out to anyone.

We like to think of ourselves as gracious and loving, but, the truth be told, that is predicated on an overly-naive and overly-romanticised notion of love.

We don't really love as Jesus invites us to when He says: Love each other as I have loved you! The tail-end of that sentence contains the challenge: Jesus doesn't say, love each other according to the spontaneous movements of your heart; nor, love each other as society defines love, but rather: Love each other as I have loved you!

And, for the most part, we haven't done that:

We haven't loved as Jesus loved.

After his wife, Raissa, died, French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain edited a book of her journals. In the Preface, he describes her struggle with the illness that eventually killed her. Severely debilitated and unable to speak, she struggled mightily in her last days.

Her suffering both tested and matured Maritain's own faith. Mightily sobered by seeing his wife's sufferings, he wrote: Only two kinds of people think that love is easy: saints, who through long years of self-sacrifice have made a habit of virtue, and naive persons who don't know what they're talking about.


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