Who says we have to love each other? Not all Catholic priests, apparently.
Last Christmas, after years of scrounging up all kinds of excuses to stay home instead of putting my rear end in a pew, I meekly took myself to the communal penance service at my parish and stood in line to confess my sins, which are many but are mainly this: I can’t love everyone and in particular I can’t love one person who could really use some love. No worries, said the priest, although I paraphrase. If she’s being difficult when I visit, just leave and maybe that will train her to be more pleasant. Oh, the sweet, naive delusions of this priest who has never met my untrainable woman.
If you live by pop psychology, the priest isn’t wrong. Hanging on to a relationship with a toxic person is a symptom of co-dependence and in the Church of Modern Thinking, co-dependence is a sin. But Jesus said to love each other; He was very clear on that point and it was one of his two big laws. Love God and love each other. But if even a priest doesn’t try to enforce that law, how the hell does love ever have a chance of winning?
Although maybe I’m thinking about it all wrong and love isn’t what’s in your heart. Maybe it’s a verb more than a noun and about what you do more than how you feel. So if I pay enough attention to notice when someone is hungry, cold or lonely—and I actually do something about it—then maybe Jesus might give me a pass? If I keep knocking on a door, even when I know the only thing waiting on the other side of that door is an apartment heated to ungodly-high elderly standards; if I stay and offer donuts, which are accepted, and water, which is not; and if I sit and listen for the 100th time to the mundane stories that shaped a life—are we good here? Can we call just going through the motions the real thing?
Here’s the problem with wimping out and calling good deeds good enough—it’s hard to scale up. It might work face-to-face with family and not-so-loved ones, but there’s a whole big world out there. Last month the world reached eight billion in population and I can’t knock on that many doors, so I have to beam out as much love across the oceans and the internets as I can. For some of us long distance love is easier anyway. As the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder and it’s often simpler to love those we will never have to meet. But social media shows the opposite is true for most—that flinging hate at strangers on-line feels good and can get you a ton of likes and follows. It’s a great way to get elected, too, in some states and districts, as long as you aim the hate at groups your followers are already inclined to see as creepy. Nothing unites like a common enemy.
What would my priest say about designating a common enemy? I hope he’d be against it, but priests are human too and the backlash against Pope Francis’s outreach to those who are “imperfect” suggests many priests can’t get past the human need to demonize. In July 2013, when asked about gay priests, Pope Francis said, “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency is not the problem…they’re our brothers.” And in a 2016 papal document, Pope Francis called for flexibility on the doctrine that denies communion to those who are divorced and remarried, seeking a more welcoming Church—only to get push back from a coalition of conservative Catholic clergy who published a 20-page letter calling this heresy.
I wish I could remember the name of the stand-up comedian I saw years ago on Netflix who complained about having nothing in common with his wife—until they found a reality show and both hated the same troublemakers on the show. Absolutely delighted in hating them. The comedian and his wife found joy in detesting these people and every episode of ridiculing the terrible behavior of these horrible people bonded the couple closer together. The reason I remember the stand-up routine is that years ago, when my husband and I were burning up the highway to St Louis with hours and hours of nothing to do but listen to XM radio and talk, Mike got on a rant about a woman who had done us both wrong. He delighted in detailing her sins, just like the comedian and his wife did with the baddies on their reality show, and seemed pretty pissed that I didn’t jump in on the hate. And I knew common enemies are important, because the comedian taught me that, so I offered up an olive branch—we could pick one person to focus all our disgust on. Our own common enemy. And with sincere apologies to a perfectly nice man who has done nothing but spread good music and love—I picked Nick Jonas.
Nick was the focus of our own secret hate fest until my husband passed away, a private joke that really did bond us a bit tighter. Common enemies work. But love works better, I think. I hope. Just wish I could do it better.
So Peace & Love, Everybody (even to you, Nick Jonas)
Questions? Comments? Detour Stories Of Your Own?