How strong is love? Let us make it personal “How much do any one of us make decisions because of love”. Do we think that love is nice but real-world decisions are based on how much we will make or how we can appease or use the prevailing social and political powers? Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. This is God’s answer to this question, and it comes none too soon.
During the Easter Season we read in the Gospel of John:
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. (Jn 14:20
9 As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love Jn 15:9).
so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. Jn 17:21
The God revealed in Jesus wishes to be seen as relationships. Because these relationships are loving they are personal. Indeed, the most accurate definition of a person is simply someone who is loved. Most extraordinary of all Jesus invites us to join in that love.
The clearest image that we have of God is of a community indeed a family and one in which we can participate.
We participate by treating others as persons:
34 I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
35 This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:34–35
We do not call God Father and ourselves brothers and sisters out of polite convention but as a description of reality. Only if I see you as my brother or sister as infinitely and irreversibly precious can I obey God and become who He calls me to be.
We see this in our individual lives. A heart doctor was asked what people should do to maintain good heart functions during the pandemic. He said what would be expected: exercise, employ a rational diet and remember to take medication. He then stopped and with some hesitation said, “maintain personal relationships”. He acknowledged that this did not sound very scientific, but he assured his audience that it was true. This should come as no surprise to us, this is the first thing to remember. God has made us this way. We can only thrive together,
Sin ultimately is anything which causes this community to deteriorate. It begins by seeing another person as different from ourselves. There is never an insignificant distinction.
Once we divide: native or foreigner, male or female, straight or gay, born or unborn, we are on a very slippery slope which with unseemly speed ends in seeing others as competitors. Then the more powerful will declare themselves superior and all others to varying degrees’ inferior.
In America, the fatal distinction is race. A belief that difference essentially in skin color defines who we are with people of white skin superior to people with dark skin. This is the original sin of America not only because it is so old but because it is so deep and so wide.
We have seen it develop over the last few months with the disparity between the death rates of white and black people with COVID-19, black people make up 13 percent of the population but have experienced 24% of COVID related deaths, and very recently with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in macabre police actions.
Would either of these events have occurred to white people who legislators and police considered brothers and sisters?
Lack of brotherly love is literally against nature and its fruits are fear and anger. We have seen this all around us.
What can we do? As citizens we can take appropriate action. Knowing now, unambiguously, that better health care can prevent death we can hold our legislators to account and be certain that heath care is provided to all. We can forbid the kinds of policing that are virtually guaranteed to be abused like choke holds and “Stand your ground laws”
We can also be more specific. We have heard calls to upgrade curriculum to include the history of racism. A splendid idea. Do you know how these decisions are made and who makes them? Do you have a relationship with any of these people? How could you become one of them? The danger in crisis situations is to think only in terms of massive structural change and not see what we can do to organize here and now to make local tangible change in less time than you might imagine. Build from there.
So, I ask again how strong how real do you consider love? Our faith in the Trinity tells us as Catholic Christians that what is not based on mutual love, relations between equal persons, will ultimately betray us. Do we believe that God’s love is as solid as wood and more powerful than the principalities and powers that seem to dominate our lives?
It is not as if we do not have a modern example.
Historian Taylor Branch wrote a multi volume biography of Martin Luther King subtitled “America in the King years”. He believed that there was a second American revolution between 1955 and 1968 and that Dr King was its George Washington. Civil rights were part of it but its defining characteristic was nonviolence Dr King and his associates saw their opponents as brothers and sisters and acted accordingly. This was and is not a strategic move as much as a recognition of the deepest reality.
It is now fashionable to criticize Dr King and those original leaders. Yet I ask those who do to show me their victories? What have they done, what have they accomplished? The successes that I have seen have come out of the churches that have carried the touch of the primacy of love. Many of us in the parish who have become involved in the work of Catholic Charities during the pandemic and have seen this flame still burning.
Yet there is a point, indeed two, to this criticism and Dr King knew them well. The first was the extent that the fear and anger caused by racism had to be addressed on many fronts. Racism is the COVID-19 of our country because it reveals and uses every other evil. Dr King opposed the war in Vietnam although this lost the support of President Johnson. He sought greater economic equality for all people. This lost some union allies. Politically these were bad moves in the short term, but he has been vindicated. Whatever tactical gains he might have lost ignoring these issues would have morally eviscerated the movement.
The second was the breath of the coalition. There were white people often on the front lines and I am proud of the priests and sisters who participated but where were the bankers, the mechanics, policemen and perhaps most importantly the blue color union men like my father and grandfathers? Whole sectors of society were and indeed are missing from this effort and without them – us – we cannot expect a truly national conversion.
Options will develop and we must be prepared to choose both as individuals and as a parish in what we wish to be involved. My personal wish is to be at a prayer service with both members of the Police force and members of the wider catholic Community, black and white, speaking every language and praying with each other even more than for each other.
What is not based on the love revealed by Jesus may be a real reform, but it will not cure the underlying condition. Injustice is almost infinitely creative and will reappear in another guise. If we do not see each other as persons – brothers and sisters – we will find a reason to hate and exploit.
How much will we risk for love?
“No Justice. No peace” is often heard and much chanted, but the Christian message is, “No love, No justice”.