My son and his family and I were having dinner the other night and he and I got into a discussion about what we believe as Catholic Christians. He told me he had been asked by someone if, as a Catholic, he believed that anyone who did not believe in Jesus was going to hell. He told them he did not believe that. He then said to me that he bases his view of others on a simple passage from the Gospel of John, found in chapter 15, verse 12: This is my commandment: love one another. Jesus repeats this again in verse 17 when he says: This I command you: love one another.
Naturally, I felt good that my son has this view of how we should treat others. It seems so simple: If we could all love one another, there would be no more war or persecution, discrimination, or any number of others ills that befall our society. Why can we not do it?
I believe there are several reasons why we, as weak and sinful human beings, cannot bring ourselves to love the other. One reason is that of fear. We fear that if we love everyone, others will take advantage of us and we might lose something: our good name, our place of power or prestige, etc. Two others reasons are somewhat connected. Self-righteousness and pride, I believe, keep us from loving others. We may feel that we are better than some others because we belong to the right church, the right political party, the right club, etc., and therefore look down upon those who, in our estimation, do not "measure up." This is a form of pride - pride that we have some talents, possessions, or other things that make us somehow better than others and, therefore, we may look down upon others and not love them as Jesus calls us to do.
Another reason is when we are unable to forgive those who have hurt us in some way. Because of our anger we would rather seek retaliation for injustice done to us instead of reaching out and forgiving those who have offended us. They have hurt us; how, therefore, can we ever love them? Yet, we have a model for how we should behave as we read in Luke 23: 34: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples at the Last Supper as quoted in John 15:12, he did not say: Love one another except...(and here you can put whatever you want: those of another religion; those of another race; those of another sexual orientation; those of differing political viewpoints, etc.) Jesus made no distinction when it comes to those whom we should love; we are called to love everyone. We may not like everyone or what they do but we are called to love them which simply means that we wish them no harm and are willing to assist them whenever they are in need.
This brings me to another point. Along with love, we must also have compassion. In this weekend's Scripture readings in the Roman ritual, we hear the Gospel of Mark (5:21-43) in which Jesus shows compassion on first a woman who had suffered with a hemorrhage for a number of years, and then shows compassion to a synagogue official whose daughter lays dying in their home. The woman is cured simply by touching Jesus' garments and the young girl who has died is raised to life.
In our parish each week, our Parish Life Director places a weekly reflection on the Gospel of the week. This week she points our that compassion is not pity because pity is something we feel from a distance. Compassion means we involve ourselves directly in the life of the person who is seeking help. The word compassion comes from two Latin words meaning "to suffer with." It means we need to get our hands dirty with the efforts that are required to meet the needs of others. Love and compassion: two things our world sorely needs in these difficult times. We look at the strife in Syria, for example, to see how humans can be destructive of one another. At the same time, we see the valiant efforts of those fighting the wild fires that are now occuring in the western part of our country which have left countless without homes to return to. Those brave men and women put their lives on the line to protect others. We see the same valiant effort in those who serve our country in the military, and as we approach the celebration of another Independence Day in the U.S. we should always be mindful of their sacrifices.
We long for peace in our world. We long for the time when we can live together in harmony. Such a time will only come when we truly love and have compassion and respect for the other. May this be our constant prayer.