Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: When I was a child....
“Well, I certainly could have handled that differently. I certainly could have been more caring, kinder, or, at least, not so abrasive.” Images of past situations often plague me. There was the time that the elderly lady said something to me that was none of her business, and I let her know that she was out of line in a way she would not forget. And, maybe she was hurt by my comment. Or the time that someone went out of their way to be good to me, and instead of note his kindness, I reacted to something else he did that was dead wrong. I don’t know if it is part of my getting older, but I am more aware then ever that there have been many times that I could have and should have handled things differently.
Perhaps you have joined me in having thoughts like this. You said something to your husband or wife, child or parent, that was correct, but was said in a way that ended up doing more harm than good. Being right does not excuse us from charity. Plenty of people, and all of us plenty of times, have used truth to hurt rather than to help.
“When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, think as a child, reason as a child. When I became a man I put aside childish things.” Why did St. Paul attach this to his great paean to love? What does being a man not a child have to do with “love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, or rude, or self-serving, or quick tempered, or sulking, etc.? Simply enough, a child has to be taught to be patient, and kind, not jealous, etc. Some never learn the lesson and remain childish. Sometimes all of us are spiritually immature.
Many people, including people who claim to be devoted to God, including priests, perhaps particularly priests, use truth in a way that is hurtful. Look at the way that so many handle the situation of gay marriage, or, for that matter, the situation of gays in the Church. The truth cannot be questioned: marriage as we use the term in the Church, means a union of two people of opposite genders which is open to bringing children into the world. But this truth has been proclaimed by many in such fierce terms that people often ask me, “Why is the Church anti-gay?” The mere fact that people ask that question tells us that something is drastically wrong in the way truth is presented. The Church is not anti-gay. It declares the immorality of sexual relations outside of marriage, but that position applies to all people, heterosexual and homosexual. I told you before, when a gay person says to me, “I am a homosexual, but am doing my best to live a moral life,” I respond, “And I am a heterosexual doing my best to live a moral life. That doesn’t make me better than you or you better than me.” But that message is not conveyed by many in the Church. Instead, what the gay person most often hears is, “You really don’t belong here. We’ll tolerate you, but little more than that.” How exactly does that attitude comply with “Love is patient, love is kind?” It does not. That attitude is the attitude of a child who refuses to recognize a world from a viewpoint very different than his or hers.
Currently, many of us are engaged in the whole question of gun control and the second amendment. One man wrote me that he was very upset that I made a fuss about the Church’s first amendment rights but am not defending the second amendment. He then listed the standard arguments of the political lobby that has had control over the gun laws in this country. How should I respond, by speaking about the absurdity of having automatic weapons in our schools rather than limiting weapons to sporting use? That position might be reasonable to some and unreasonable to others. Maybe I should just send the person the names of the children killed. Or maybe I should just send him a box of business cards with the words, “Have gun, will assault.” Those things would knock him over the head with the truth. They would also be rather immature and unchristian ways responding. Instead, a better approach might be to say that we need to do everything possible to prevent tragedies like San Bernardino and Newtown while respecting the right of people to be free of government intrusion into their lives. Perhaps, I could note that all freedoms have limits, even the freedom of religion. No religion has the right to do physical harm to its members. The better approach might be to say that in this case, we need to work together to find the acceptable limits to ensure the continual existence of this particular freedom. You see, my point is that as Christians we have to learn how to deal with our differences and problems in charity rather than to attack each other.
Love is patient. Patience is difficult. It is something we want everyone else to have with us while we put limits on the patience we have with others. It is rare that I hear the young talk about the patience that they need to have with their parents. Occasionally, I’ll hear a Teen say, “My parents never had teenagers before, but whether I agree with them or not, I know they are trying their best.” Most of the time I hear, “My parents are so unreasonable.” Some parents take the view that their patience ends at high school or at college as though they no longer need to act as parents once their children become 14 or 18. Yet, they want their children to be patient with them as they try to learn how to deal with them as young adults.
Many older people, myself included, drive through life with our hands on the horn of our cars. We want our needs to be met now. We want that person in front of us to get moving as soon as the light turns green. At the same time we often don’t respond to the needs of others with a great deal of alacrity. When a baby wants something, the baby wants it immediately and will cry to get attention. An adult is willing to recognize that his or her needs are not the most important things in the world. “When I was a child I used to think like a child, reason like a child, but when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”
Love is kind. Picture yourself standing before St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven. He’s just told you the good news that you are going in. Now, you’re just waiting for the shuttle to pick you up. OK, so I’ve been traveling too much. Just stick with me, though. So, as you’re waiting you ask him, “Hey Pete, (you might as well be on a first name basis since you’ll be living in the same mansion), Hey Pete, what was Jesus like during those three years that you followed Him through Galilee and Judea?”
I am absolutely convinced that St. Peter would not say that Jesus was a great healer, a performer of wonderful miracles, nor would he say that Jesus’ words were electrifying, they held us spell bound. Instead, I am absolutely convinced that St. Peter would say, “He was the kindest man to ever live.” The tax collector Zaccheus, the woman caught in adultery, even Peter himself, were just a few that were embraced by the Lord’s kindness.
He was kind. Love is kind, and He was Love Incarnate. He was kind, and the Kind One said to us, “Come, pick up your cross and follow me.” By that He wasn’t limiting us to accept our struggles in life. He was telling us to deal with all that life throws at us as He dealt with life, in complete kindness, in compete charity.
When I was a child..... We all have a lot of growing up to do to live as Christians. But that’s OK, the Lord is not done with any of us yet.