Spirituality of the Readings

How to Love

I don’t know if you have ever read Richard Carlson’s 1997 book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and it’s all small stuff). It offers advice and examples as to how we can live a loving and a (more) peaceful life.

One of my favorite chapters gives a way to use patience rather than upset when someone else does an annoying thing. For instance, when a car swerves in front of you, instead of asking, “why in the heck did he or she do that???!!!!???” maybe we could ask the question, “what are they trying to teach me?” This becomes like a game in which everyone else is wise and you or I want to learn from them.

Such an insight changed my own perspective.

When a car goes through a very narrow opening behind a truck and careens into my lane with only several inches to spare, then, instead of leaning on the horn and unpacking some road-rage, I ask what the swerver could be teaching me. Could it be that I too am sometimes in a great big hurry and don’t consider the other person? Honestly, this softens my attitude and lets me have some compassion.

I am not trying to sell copies of Carlson’s books, though I do like this one. I am just pointing out how his generous writing soothed me.

Jesus, in Sunday’s Gospel, suggests an even bigger change of attitude. His prose is a bit more jagged and maybe less consoling than Carlson’s, but ultimately deeper.

Jesus says that you and I try to bargain in everything. If someone loves us, only then do we agree to love them in return. If they run their car over our flower-bed or nearly knock us out of the crosswalk, we become angry and we substitute bad feelings for loving ones. After all, who would be nice to an evil doer who is in the act of doing evil to you?

Jesus says:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

How can we love without any return? “Lend money and expect nothing back,” Jesus says. If you get a reward for each thing you do you are just like the pagans.

But is it even possible to just love—and never to get our own empty tank filled back up? Isn’t that a way to burn-out?

Jesus’ answer is found in a wonderful clue toward the bottom half of Sunday’s Gospel. There he says, if we can give without guile, we will be like “children of the Most High,” who is always kind to the ungrateful and the wicked!

Alright, is God “always kind”? Yes. All his “needs” are already filled. God’s love does not demand reward. It overflows to us no matter what we do.

If we do not reject this, if we experience it—in the sacraments, say, or in prayer, or in another person—and if we let it in, then maybe our tanks will be pre-filled. God’s love will flow out to others through us.

Fill up!

John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson