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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Face Only a Christian Could Love?

Things have been crazy lately, and I thought I should do something special for my 100th post! But, alas, my Mothers' Day homily will have to do.

“He’s got a face only a mother could love.” I suspect you’ve heard this expression a few times in your life. Despite the fact that it is meant to serve as something of an insult to the person to whom it’s directed, the expression wouldn’t exist if we didn’t tend to believe in the premise behind it. For the presumption that comes with this expression is that a mother’s love is something extraordinary. Of all people in the world, it tells us, the person whose love we can always count on is our mother. Mothers are known for their heroic love, loving their children even when no one else seems to, or seems able to. It is this kind of love which we celebrate today, when we thank our mothers for everything they are and have been to us.

But that expression also got me thinking. Why isn’t there an equally valid expression, “he’s got a face only a Christian could love”? Because isn’t it true that our love for others is also something that people should be able to count on, that our love for others is meant to be something heroic. Indeed, God tells us that even should a mother forsake her child, he will not abandon us. And, as the people of God, we are challenged to do the same, to love with a love that goes even beyond the heroic nature of a mother’s love. To love like Jesus did.

It’s not easy. Take our first reading today, for example. Here we have the Apostles, who knew Jesus, faced with Saul, one of those that were persecuting them, saying now, “I am one of you!” “Jesus appeared to me and told me to join you.” Our text, from the Acts of the Apostles, says at first “they were all afraid of him.” They didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms. But they did give him a chance to prove himself. And they were eventually convinced of Jesus’ claim on his life, and his sincerity. Using the image from our Gospel reading today, we can say that they saw his fruits, and saw that they were good.

My fear is that today not only do we fail to love as we should, but that more and more in the political climate of our country today—and don’t fool yourself into thinking for a minute that it hasn’t infected our church community—we are not even allowing ourselves to see what kind of fruits others are producing. It’s easier to attack and demonize and not get to know the other person at all. Instead, we trust what other people, who have political agendas, have to say about them, instead of seeing for ourselves.

In today’s political climate, I don’t think Saint Paul would even have been given a chance to demonstrate the truth that Jesus had called him to be an Apostle. The so-called Christian bloggers would have made mincemeat out of him before he even had a chance to demonstrate the fruits of his calling. I read the blogs and the editorials aimed at people who are deemed “not Christian enough,” for whatever reason, and I can tell you that charity does not rule in what many of them write. And, lately, because I do occasionally write in such venues, I’ve taken to asking myself, and I’m encouraging others to do the same: Does your love for the unborn, for the poor, for Jesus cause you to speak uncharitably and contemptuously of others? And do you even really know these people well enough to make such judgments? I know there are times when I could answer “yes” to the first question, and “no’ to the second. And I also know that is not what Christian love is all about.

Given the ways in which we so often fail, I suspect there is not a lot of hope for adding that new saying, “He has a face only a Christian could love.” We’ll have to stick with Mom for now. And we should also look to Jesus. One of the most striking things about Jesus is that he never failed to share a table, even with those he criticized and even with those who were known to be public sinners. Loving them was always more important than shunning them. Adding them to the community of believers was always more important than isolating them because of their unbelief. Healing them was always more important than pointing out how sick they were.

Of course, it’s easy enough to say when faced with everything Jesus did and was, “I’m sorry, but I’m not Jesus. I can’t love like that.” I suspect there are mothers here who once thought of themselves, “how can I be a mother, I can’t love like that.” And then that day came when her child was born and suddenly she found herself capable of a love she never imagined. Gathering together on Mother’s Day to worship our great lover Jesus, we are invited to imagine ourselves capable of heroic and even Christ-like love and to make that the fruit by which we will be judged by the world, and by which we judge others.