Friday, November 25, 2011

Who is my neighbor?

"Friends and loved ones" is a common phrase that recently struck me as odd. It's strange to me because I suspect most people love their friends. I certainly love mine. This is not the same love I have for my brothers, parents, or husband, but my love for each of those is distinct also. I don't understand why friends are considered to be outside of the loved ones group.

Peter and his friend Sam with their moms

If I were to list individually all those whom I love, this would be a very long and boring post. Making sweeping generalities, then, I will define my loved ones as my husband, biological family, in-laws, those who have married in to both of these families, husband's friends who have become my own, the handful of close friends I have made in the past 15 years or so (plus Elissa), and "my" kids from church.

Two interesting points about that list: 1) it includes a broad group of young people I only met a few months ago and 2) it is exclusive. Allow me to address these.

1. I have heard that some priests are given the gift of immediately forgetting what they hear in the confessional. This grace from God allows them to fulfill their vocation as God wishes without being distracted by the human tendency to cast judgement on others. Isn't it wonderful how God equips us to do the works He has planned for us? In a similar (if less impressive) way, God has truly given me a heart for children. The young people assigned to my care capture my heart almost immediately. I have received the grace to see them as children of God and the willingness to serve them to the best of my ability. I have made the choice to love them and Love has come to abide in me.

2. As wonderful as it is that I can love those I am called to serve, it is not enough. We are called to love not just our friends, or even our neighbors, but our enemies as well. I can't think of any particular enemies I have, but there are many people whom I don't like. "That's fine," you say, "we don't have to like everyone!" True, but we do have to love them. And I don't do that either. I gossip, I joke about their annoying habits, I silently tell them to "shut up" while trying to keep at least a neutral expression on my face. The love that comes so freely for "my" kids stops short of including adults.

God is Love and all who live in God, live in love. If I do not love those around me, it is because I choose not to, as certainly as I choose to love "my" kids. The fault, dear friends, lies not in our God but in ourselves.

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