Staying grounded in love

In the Gospel reading for Sunday’s mass, we see the Pharisees take Jesus to task for not following particular religious rituals, such as the purifications of utensils for eating and drinking. Jesus then offers them a lesson in reply to their criticism, stating, “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mk 7:23) Jesus speaks of a kind of interior purification that is more important than external rituals. It reminds me of how Martin Luther King Jr also advocated for an interior purification as part of the course of non-violent protest: letting go of anger, hatred, jealousy, a desire for violence, etc in the course of protest. King really believed that when we see social injustice and react, we have to let go of these things. Anger has a place in first drawing us to notice injustice, but in the long run it simply becomes destructive. Social movements that are going to be grounded in God must be grounded in love. In all this, MLK Jr was simply following Jesus.

We are also invited to think about how whenever we see social or structural injustice, as for example we have seen in the case of revelations of past years of abuse in the church, that we are also called to love—not anger, hate, bitterness and the rest. To the extent that we feel hurt about these past events, it is because we do love the church and we hate to see what we love suffer. The Church is not merely the structures and traditions or the clergy but all of the people who belong to it–we are the church, and we hurt because we see that the Body of the Church has been hurt, a Body that we love.

However we respond, then, that response needs to arise out of Love: love for my fellow Christians, love for victims, love for the many good priests and lay leaders in the church, and also healthy self love.

I myself have been spending time this week reflecting on and thinking about what I do love about the Church–what first drew me to convert; the deep beauty and mystery of Eucharist; a wonderful spiritual formation; rich spiritual friendships with other lay people and priests alike; the intellectual tradition…..I could go on. I have not chosen to reflect on these things in order to minimize what is evil, or as if we could just make up some kind of accounting columns, as if to say: so long as the plus column is longer than the minus column for me personally, then all is okay. No.

Rather, it is important to focus on Love because without being grounded in God’s love and love for one another, there is no real possibility of contributing to positive change in a God given and God led way. We may feel hurt, we may feel anger, we may feel many things. But whatever choices we make in order to address the hurt and pain of those who suffer, we need to feel love.

So we might also follow Jesus, and follow MLK Jr, and decide to remember and to spend time recalling: where has God been in our experiences of the Church? Where has the Love been? And where is the Love still, right now? Where is the Love even in the midst of the sadness and anger, and how are those emotions, too, also the effects of genuine love? Jesus encourages to sift through the many emotions until we find ourselves in the nourishing waters of love. Then, and only then, are we prepared to help the Church to reform, to respond, and to heal.