When you told your little child, “I love you,” and they asked, “How much?” most parents responded, “More than all the world.”
As life goes on, children can worry their parents, even hurt and disappoint them, but in most cases, the love of parents persists through it all. Children, in their turn, usually seek to return that love and make their parents proud of them.
However, as much as we desire to be loved without conditions, we are not accustomed to being loved this way. Perhaps because we usually have to earn the love of other people, we instinctively find it difficult to believe, to emotionally accept, that we are loved without conditions.
I was really struck by the following simply-stated comment by Jennifer Herdt from her book Putting on Virtue, “God wants to give us a gift and we want to buy it.”
The gift is unconditional love, acceptance without conditions. We have only to accept it, like that little child being reassured that she or he is loved more than all the world. However the tendency is to feel we and others must earn it, merit it, and if we fall short, that we won’t have it.
The fact is we cannot earn,merit, or become worthy of this gift on our own. We express this when we pray before Communion, “We are not worthy to receive you, but, by your word, we are healed.” We can then seek, as best we can, with grateful hearts, to please our Divine Parent.
I recently read The Road to Character by David Brooks, a writer for the New York Times. In it, he described the lives of many well-known but imperfect people–from President Dwight David Eisenhower to St. Augustine and Dorothy Day. Brooks showed that despite their flaws and imperfections, they developed character in some significant way. Among them was George Eliot which was actually the pen name for English author Mary Anne Evans who wrote, “People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbor.” More often than not, the opportunity is often within the walls of our own home.
Despite, what was to some, scandalous behavior on her part, George Eliot saw through pretense and identified the challenge we most commonly face–the persons within the walls of our own homes, in the offices and factories where we work, in the stores where we shop, on the roads we drive.
We often don’t achieve loving others unconditionally, but when we do, we reflect the way we are loved by our Divine Parent.
Today’s Readings give us examples of extreme generosity: the widow who baked bread-cakes for Elijah even though it was all the flour she had left for herself and her son; another widow who put two small coins in the collection box even though it was all she had. Sometimes it takes that kind of generosity to overlook a hurtful remark or to put up with annoying behavior.
Pope Frances has urged us to look not at numbers but at the faces of individual refugees fleeing war and terror. In a totally different setting we are challenged to look at the faces in our immediate lives, persons needing to be understood and not judged, to be listened to and not yelled at.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews states that Christ appeared once and for all to remove sin through self-sacrifice. Jesus gave all he had. He literally poured himself out fully for us with his love.
Pope Francis called on all of us to create “islands of mercy” in our lives and our communities. Jesus is our model. May He live in our hearts and influence our actions.
I wonder…is it more difficult to love unconditionally or to accept being loved this way. What do you think?