Reality Check

Last week I mentioned the admonition to “love your neighbor.” This Sunday, we heard the same from Mark’s account of the Good News. It was ironic that my family heard the Gospel proclaimed in our old parish in Delaware, especially with one of our old neighbors sitting behind us.

We love those neighbors. Our children grew up together and it was nice to see them again and reconnect. But my thoughts during the Gospel were not on the people behind us.

When we first moved into our home back in 2005, we met our next door neighbors. On one side was a state trooper, his wife the teacher, and their two children. Before we moved, we had been to their parties, watched their children grow up, and stood on the sidewalk in front of our houses talking for hours.

Then there was the other side.

A few months after moving in, we arrived home one day to find that those neighbors had installed sod in their yard. How nice.

Then I noticed the hose they were using to water their new lawn. It looked a lot like ours. Upon further study, I realized it was our hose…and it was still connected to our house.

We never really talked much to those neighbors after that. They had a dog that never shut up, hosted parties until all hours, parked anywhere they wished, and let their yard grow and grow and grow. And did I mention the dog?

It was to those neighbors that my mind wandered as I was sitting at Mass yesterday.

When I think of that reading – or the command in general – I also hear the voice of a priest friend, who, when reflecting on that reading at Mass years ago, said what I was thinking: “Like many of you…when I hear that instruction, I think, ‘Nice advice, God, but have you met my neighbors?’”

Loving our neighbors is tough. People are annoying. They don’t listen to our great advice. They overlook our gifts. They ignore us.

Still, I swear there are days that I think I can actually hear God telling me, “You know that ‘love your neighbor’ thing?”

“I meant that.”

So this week, I will remember that things are different. It’s a new day, a new beginning. It’s a day like no other in a week like no other in a place like no other. Sure, it all looks and sounds familiar, but this hasn’t happened before. This time. This place.

This week, I will love my neighbor. I will not take things so personally. I will remember that not everything is about me. I will forgive more easily. People will still be annoying, but I will remember that I am people too. So this week, I will remind myself that if God loves everyone, everyone is lovable.

As the great Dorothy Day said, “We only love God as much as the person we love the least.”

So, this week, love like God…and get yourself out of the way.

~pjd

Evil Around Us

In this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 5:1-20), we see that great scene in which Jesus is confronted by a man “with an unclean spirit” and, after a brief conversation (“Legion is my name. There are many of us.”), Jesus commands the unclean spirit to enter the swineherd, which then run off the cliff and drown themselves.

I would imagine it was quite a dramatic scene, especially with all the dead pigs now in the water, but if we stop and think about it, there is – as always – more to the story.

What do we do with the evil around us? The gossip? The secrets we cannot seem to keep? The opportunities to talk badly about those around us? The countless chances to be mean or ignore a chance for mercy in favor of our own idea of justice?

Do we command the evil spirits to be gone or do we join in? Do we give the evil spirits a place to live or do we send them packing?

There is never a swineherd around when you need one, but maybe this week, we can make a conscious effort to send the evil away and choose to live the Jesus way.

Give me strength, O Lord.

Unbelief

In today’s Gospel we see a man who hurts for his suffering child. “Help my unbelief,” he calls out to Jesus. I have been thinking about that line these past few days.

I can’t believe the things that pass for news. I can’t believe the people that pass for leaders. I can’t believe the same people who proclaim that life begins at conception also say that guns belong in schools.

I can’t believe that people really think the world is flat or that all undocumented workers are criminals, or that refugees arrive without years of vetting. I can’t believe Twitter is a thing.

I can’t believe how big my children are getting and how much fun they are when they play together. I can’t believe how often we say we are people of justice and mercy but behave quite differently. And yet, I can’t believe the recreational outrage to which so many people subscribe is quickly become the norm for our news and our politics and our communities. I can’t believe it’s almost Lent.

I can’t believe there are people who look at the wonder of creation and doubt the existence of God. I can’t believe that there are people who love God but don’t love their neighbor. And I can’t believe that there isn’t a scientist in this world who can’t come up with a rational reason that convinces us all that ice cream is, in fact, good for us.

As people of faith, there will always be things we struggle to believe. That God is love and that we, in turn, are called to share that love with others, shouldn’t be a struggle.

Help our unbelief, O Lord.