“Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)
October 26, 2014
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Though the media reminds us almost daily of the reality of warring religious factions, yet Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel passage that the basis of all religious faith, no matter its particular expression, has a common foundational tenant. “Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)
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These two commandants are inseparable; the only evidence for our love of God is our tangible love for one another. And there is no option to pick and choose those we’ll love and those we won’t. The love Jesus insists upon must be inclusive and without exception.
Still, though, it’s vague. What does it mean to love others? An article authored by Rachel Naomi Remen and entitled “Helping, Fixing or Serving?” offers us a reflection on the love of neighbor that Jesus proposes. I share an excerpt from that article:
“Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.
“Service rests on the premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.
“Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.
“When we help, we become aware of our own strength. But when we serve, we don’t serve with our strength; we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.
“Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others. Fixing and helping are draining, and over time we may burn out, but service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us. In helping we may find a sense of satisfaction; in serving we find a sense of gratitude.
“We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. Fixing and helping are strategies to repair life. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy. Serving requires us to know that our humanity is more powerful than our expertise.
“Service is not an experience of strength or expertise; service is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe. Helpers and fixers feel causal. Servers may experience from time to time a sense of being used by larger unknown forces. Those who serve have traded a sense of mastery for an experience of mystery, and in doing so have transformed their work and their lives into practice.” (www.shambhalasun.com)
A most precious memory is of a hospital-based bereavement group I facilitated for six years two decades ago. Actually, all I did was unlock the door, turn on the coffee pot and arrange the chairs in a circle. The real work, the healing, occurred as members bound themselves one to another in their common experience of grief. During those years of twice-monthly meetings, I watched in wonder as something of heaven came to earth, settling right in the midst of our encircled chairs.
Only first names were shared as, going around the circle, each person spoke. “My name is Helen, and I’m here because my husband died last month.” Or “My name is Bill, and I’m here because my daughter was killed in a car accident.” Or, “My name is Lillian. My husband of 53 years is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s. I’m here because the husband I knew all those years is gone.” Sometimes the grief was so strong that the attendee couldn’t utter a single word, a choked sob the best she or he could manage.
Over weeks and months, though, the healing was palpable as veteran group members sitting beside first-timers held a hand, offered a tissue, or whispered a supportive word. Over time, as I witnessed the broken befriending the more broken, the miracle of healing played out in our midst. Sooner than I would have thought possible, returnees to the group, while still dabbing at a few tears of their own, became themselves the sturdy shoulders upon which the more recently aggrieved could lean. Indeed, the touch of heaven’s hand was here.
Indeed, “We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.” Yes, this is how Jesus would have us love one another.