To love my neighbor

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Corita Kent

How difficult it is during this pandemic to hold onto any sense of hope. Today, on this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the second reading from 1 Peter says: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

If someone asked me to give a reason for my hope right now, I truly would be unable to say anything at all. I am overwhelmed by the deaths of so many from this virus, by the increasing joblessness and food insecurity people are facing. I am upset and saddened by the politicization of the virus in America, for the willingness of so many to sacrifice lives in the name of economic progress. How can I give an explanation for my Christian hope when, right now, so many Christians are behaving in ways that make it seem like they could care less about Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, caring more about ‘religious freedom’?

In today’s Gospel reading in John 14, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”

And what are Jesus’ commandments? I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. I think that whatever it means to hope, is to love. To hope for one another is to love one another, even in times such as these. And to hope for my neighbor is to sacrifice what is dear to me, including my reputation, status… even my desire to receive communion at church. If I am to truly give an explanation for my hope, my explanation would be my love.

My home church of St. Mark started having public mass again. My question is: is this how we best love our neighbors right now, by gathering 80 people in a public space, given what we know about the virus and the way it spreads? Is this how we follow Jesus commands, to love one another as he has loved us? Is this really how we give an explanation for our hope—by potentially putting lives at risk?

I am tired. I don’t know that I have ever done anything truly hopeful, or with true Christian love. But I pray I will continue to try, even in these days of darkness, when it is so easy to give into despair. No, I resolve to continue to love my neighbor, whatever that looks like.

I do that because I love Jesus—for to love Jesus is to love my neighbor, and to hope for them. I cannot do this on my own—it is the Holy Spirit working in me that allows me to love and to hope. The gift of the Holy Spirit stirs in me, reminding me to never give up hope for my neighbor, since to give up hope would be to give up my love for them, as Kierkegaard writes.

The gift of the Holy Spirit in us constantly calls us to the good, constantly reminding us to love, to hope. And so maybe that would be my explanation of my Christian hope, to simply say, “Life is absurd and sad, but I will continue to love.”

Jesus constantly implicates me and my privilege. Jesus constantly calls me to sacrifice, but this is not a reason to fall into despair. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, and helps us recognize the good in each moment, and helps us to encounter God in the face of the Other.

Right now I am reading The Plague by Albert Camus (a must-read!) There is a scene in when Father Paneloux, the priest of the plague-stricken town, gives a fiery (and awful and unhelpful) sermon to the people telling them that the plague is judgement from God. But, after all of that, Camus writes that “Never more intensely than today had he, Father Paneloux, felt the immanence of divine succor and Christian hope granted to all alike. He hoped against hope that, despite all the horrors of these dark days, despite the groans of men and women in agony, our fellow citizens would offer up to heaven that one prayer which is truly Christian, a prayer of love. And God would see to the rest.”

That one prayer which is truly Christian. A prayer of love.

Holy Spirit, help me to always love, in every situation, whatever that may look like. In these days of fear and death and despair and uncertainty, stir in me always a love for my neighbor. Strip away my ego, my desire to be known, my desire to be loved. And help me to love others instead, without needing it reciprocated. Teach me to be Christlike, to always be on the side of the marginalized. To suffer. And I pray that in all of this you would stir in me that absurd Christian hope—that with it I may always love, and in loving, find reason to hope. Amen.

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