April 29, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Living With Each Other

We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. (113)
It's true. We are called to do our best with one another, to love each other precisely as the 'complex mixture of light and shadows' that we are. I remember how I once moved into a new friary and right away I appreciated one of the brothers in charge and how precise he was with the liturgy. One of the first nights after supper I tried to begin helping with the dishes. I took a towel and was drying a plate. The same brother angrily snatched the towel from me and yelled, "That towel is for drying hands!" Nice way to make a new brother feel welcome! But as I thought about it, I saw that the brother I appreciated with the liturgy and the brother with his rudeness about towels was the same person. What about him was a gift to the community in one situation was antisocial in another. Good things and hassles, but a single individual calling me to fraternal charity in both.

Sometimes even harder than accepting others as a 'complex mix of light and shadows' is doing the same for ourselves. It is challenge to humility to recognize ourselves as a mysterious and blessed mess of good intentions and bad, of more conscious and less conscious motivations. As St. Paul put it, "I do not understand my own actions. for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15)

We find ourselves like the field of wheat where weeds have been mysteriously sown. (Matthew 13: 24-30) We are basically good, but the nourishment that our goodness should receive and the space in which it should flourish get partially taken up by the weeds. Here our hope is the Lord's promise that the grace of his judgment will burn away the weeds and harvest the wheat. The good that we are and that we do in this life is preserved for eternal life; this is the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the whole humanity he borrowed from us through the consent of our Blessed Mother.

The spiritual journey of each – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer nicely put it – needs to help them to a certain “disillusionment” with regard to the other, to stop expecting from that person something which is proper to the love of God alone.  (320)
Without God we end up expecting too much from each other, or worse, from the things in which we begin to take refuge instead of in God; accomplishments, human respect, money, or drugs, alcohol, food, and so many other things.

As Pope Francis wisely points out, by taking up the spiritual journey together, we can point each other to God through the very insufficiency that we are for each other in our desire for a perfect peace, acceptance, and love.

I worry sometimes about this sort of thing with regard to religious life. At least in men's religious life, we sometimes try to sell our life--in a false contrast with the diocesan priesthood--as somewhere where one can enjoy the support of community and have the intimacy of close relationships. It's true that community life can be a great support, but this must go together with a commitment to community life as a challenge to patience and charity, and as a way to realize more and more, in line with what the Pope says, that only God truly satisfies. Without this, we risk becoming consumers of community in what it can do for me in my desires and needs, how it can enable my issues and pathologies, instead of a place where I constantly ask myself, 'How can I be brother to this person or in this situation, for the love of God'?

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