Dear Grace Family,
Rosemary’s and my old friend Sr. Norberta is visiting us for a couple of days from Hawaii. Norberta was the Director of the Hoboken Shelter for about twenty-five years. She and I became fast friends when, as a seminarian, I was sent to intern at the Shelter. I wanted to go. I figured if I was going to find Jesus anywhere he would have to be at the shelter, which he was. Even so, I hated the city. At least a couple times a week I’d plot a way to get out of Hoboken as soon as possible so I could get on with building my real life as the pastor of a beautiful, little country church like in a Jane Austin novel. There, I’d spend my days writing books of poetry, sermons, gardening and delighting elderly parishioners with homemade muffins and pastoral visits.
I remember when I bore my soul to Norberta about all of this over lunch in her office she laughed so hard she choked on her ice tea. I thought she was laughing at what I wanted so it hurt my feelings. What she was really laughing at was my idea of who I was. She knew I would be bored out of my skull after a week as a country priest. She saw I was my best self with guests at the shelter and running programs for kids in public housing. Neither of those things were incidental, as I was sure they were, to my true path. They were my path. Norberta knew about a year before I did that I wasn’t going anywhere.
I used to think Norberta knew more about parts of me than I did because she was psychic. Now I know that, like an elephant's feet picking up seismic shifts in the earth’s mantle, love makes you extraordinarily attentive.
For instance, I know down to the split second when I can stop my daughter Lucy from having a meltdown by doing something ridiculous to redirect her rage into laughter, like tackling her, tying her sneakers together and walking away. Rosemary knows the difference between our son John being upset because he’s generally an anxious kid and his being upset because he’s running out of fuel. She hands him a banana at the right time and all of his personal crises are solved.
When the church talks about the Great Commandment: Love one another, we often use the word “love” generically; as if it were one feeling Christians should have for all people. The problem with that is love is never generic; it’s particular or it isn’t love at all.
Does the enormity of the violence and division in our nation and the world overwhelm you? Me too. Maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t say “Love everyone.” It’s impossible to love everyone. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.” That’s it: just the person in front of you right now. Maybe Jesus meant we should try to pay special attention to that one person even if we don’t feel like it; ask lots of questions, figure out what makes him or her “light up” and be invested in helping that person shine.
Who knows, maybe love is like yoga. Is it possible that if you practice loving on purpose your heart will get stronger and more limber?
Mother Teresa said that all Jesus ever asked from us was small actions with great love. Perhaps she was right.
Let’s practice together
See you Next Sunday,