Did You Love?

by Fr. David May

Did You Love? <p> by Fr. David May

Just listened to the 8:00 evening news. They still have plenty of items about COVID-19: when the borders of Canada will be open to visitors from the U.S.A. and from overseas and what the conditions will be for said visits; the latest events among indigenous peoples of Canada during these days of locating graveyards at former sites of residential schools; the need for anti-Islamic prejudices and acts of violence to be addressed; England is about to celebrate “Freedom Day” from all restrictions due to COVID. And so forth. (This column was written in mid-July.)

Nothing about the untold stories tonight: the doubts a good number of people have about the safety or efficacy of these new RNA vaccines; the fears that those who do not see fit to be vaccinated will face restrictions of all sorts on travel, job availability, social life, and added to all this, pressure from and prejudices expressed against the non-vaccinated as dangerous to society and deserving of punishment by governments.

On the other side, there are plenty of internet articles at least, that regard the vaccinated as cooperating with evil forces in society and even compromising their Christian faith by cooperating with evil forces who want to restrict rights, persecute believers, and reduce populations.

We have a bit of everything in Madonna House as to points of view in such matters. We are trying to respect one another’s opinions or at least respect the people holding opinions different from one’s own. We’re still, as of this writing, not “open for business” with all that means in Madonna House life, though by the time this column is in Restoration, we may well be open at last.

To be mostly “closed” for 15-plus months is unprecedented in our MH history, to my knowledge, and the same applies to society at large. One can only wonder what will be left of the world we once knew when this phase is over, though some think it will never be over in one form or another, or at least not any time soon.

One thing I’ve discovered about myself in these months is how much I do not like being “closed.” It goes against the very nature of anyone who knows himself as an apostle of the Lord of one kind or another to be “closed” to the world.

Of course, we have not been entirely hidden within our congregate “bubble.” We have a huge outreach via phone, social media of one kind or another, correspondence, etc.

It’s just that we haven’t been going out much, and we’re not letting people in unless they go through quarantine and testing and such, which reduces drastically those who can stay with us, since not everyone has as much “quarantine time” to go with vacation time and a genuine visit here.

I’ve noted that a good number of people here are more patient with this process than I have been. I seem to put a very high value on personal contact, face-to-face encounters, and tangible expressions of communication, something Zoom doesn’t do for me, though it’s better than nothing.

On the other hand, being “just (or mostly) us” has had its advantages. We’ve been called to face one another more deeply, face ourselves, and face the Lord in the quiet of our hearts. Of course, no one can be forced into these arrangements, but the opportunity has been there.

And since our apostolic outreach is deeply founded on our love or lack of same for one another in the community, it is as if we have been in the crucible of formation anew in certain essential points of our spirit.

Maybe some of that will even show up in our relations with friends and neighbors as life returns “back to abnormal,” as Fr. Pat McNulty used to love to repeat.

Catherine Doherty taught us that the one aspect of our life that we would be most likely to let go of and to view as less important would be that of loving one another.

It’s almost a cliché to say that loving one another is the essence of the Gospel, and because it can seem to be just that, a cliché, it is easier to think that one’s position on this or that issue is of greater importance at a given moment in history.

Living in a bubble where people are “loving one another” while life-and-death issues of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the limits of government, the trustworthiness or not of the big pharmaceutical companies, possible demographic disasters unless we act this way or that way depending on which recommendations you choose to follow—all these seem immense and will certainly have their influence on any little love-one-another bubble!

But in the end, it will come down to this: whichever way history goes, there will be people in our lives—they may be friends, they may be enemies—and the question from the Lord will be the same: did you love these people?

Did you lay down your life for your friends? Did you love your enemies to the point of giving them your cloak as well as your Birkenstocks?

It is love like this, like Christ’s, that bears witness to who God is and can penetrate to the deepest places of the heart, where transformation of human beings takes place.

I’ve heard “truth” proclaimed in such a way that it seemed repulsive, arrogant, and seemingly filled with disdain for anyone who thought differently.

Of course, disagreeable ideas that are viewed as false are hard to separate from the people owning said ideas, but we cannot witness to Christ without communicating in some manner or other the incredible love Christ has for each person.

Here are some thoughts from Catherine on this topic:

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“I hope that in Madonna House we are passionately, zealously involved in the business of our Father’s house.

“I hope we are not going around like flies in September, or just after a frost, a sort of Bzzz, Bzzz, Bzzz. I hope not! I hope our step is brisk! And our ways are passionate! Because we are supposed to be passionately in love with God. There is no other way you can be in love with God….

“So, we have one vocation. We have one joyous privilege, incredible: to love God back! Do we love him in marriage? Do we love him in religious life? A single life dedicated to God in the world? As a priest? As a monk? As a sister? As a student? As a child of eight years of age? As a wife? As an old person?

“It is immaterial! Love knows neither age nor space nor time. It cannot be caught! It cannot be put in a box! It cannot be measured! It cannot be weighed!

“It’s everybody’s privilege; it is everybody’s duty; it is everybody’s joy, because we have been baptized in Christ. In other words, we have been given the ability to love God back. Divine life courses in us…

“So, we exist in this world, all of us Christians, to love God back. Because it goes even further. He died to make all men brothers, Christians or non-Christians, and brothers are supposed to love one another, of one family. And we are the family of God…The important thing is that love conquers all things it meets, even hate.” (From an unpublished talk by Catherine Doherty, August 1964)