It is an uncomfortable truth that those closest to us are sometimes hardest to love. Mother Teresa hit the nail painfully on the head when she said it is easier to feed a hungry person a bowl of rice than to love the hurting person in your own home. This truth applies to our life in the Church, especially within the parish. Sometimes we look wistfully beyond her doors because those inside seem hardest to love. Inside the doors of our own parishes, we find thousands of petty ways to judge and harm; we sift one another like wheat! Whether there are great divisions in our communities, or just incessant pecking at one another, we do great harm to the Body of Christ; we fail the One we claim to love most.
St. Augustine had a graphic way of putting it – when we claim to love Christ without loving his people, we decapitate his Head from his Body: “What has the Church done to thee, that thou shouldst wish to decapitate her? Thou wouldst take away her Head, and believe in the Head alone, despising the body. Vain is thy service, and false thy devotion to the Head. For to sever it from the body is an injury to both Head and body.”
If we refuse to love those Christ died for, we empty the Cross of its power. We work against Christ. We become the enemy, the sickness in the Body. Love in the Church is what keeps the arteries open and allows the blood to flow freely through the Body, keeping each member healthy and able to function. When love fails, the blood of the Church slows and thickens; like body parts deprived of oxygen, members become lifeless and a slow decay sets in.
It is easy to find fault, to excuse ourselves from loving certain individuals who don’t measure up to our own standards – who don’t believe the right things, or say the right things, or make the right decisions. But when this happens and we find ourselves without love, let us very intentionally stop, look on that person with the loving glance of Christ (Lk. 22:61) and cast on them the mantle of love, for “love hides a multitude of sins” (1 Pt. 4:8). That is not a platitude from Scripture; it is a demanding truth. We have the power to cover sin, to neutralize its damaging effects, simply by offering a calm, peaceful, forgiving love, and by leaving behind our judgment and irritation, which only exacerbate the faults of others and rob us of our peace.
When we find it hard to love someone – especially when it is one of our brothers or sisters in Christ, one of the fellow members of his Body – we must turn to Christ and beg for his help – because it is very important to him and to the survival of his Body. We must go so far as to make him a promise: “I will not decapitate you, Lord. I will not work against the power of your Cross, which does not divide but reconciles.” When we keep this promise, when we love those hardest to love, we become like him, and we discover not only the power but the joy of the Cross. We release ourselves from our own demands and satisfy only the single command of the Master: to love. Following this command, we maintain the health of the Body and bolster the power of the Cross. And slowly we discover that we have joined in a miraculous plan. Our love heals and transforms: those we deemed the “less honorable” parts of the Body (1 Cor. 12:23) become the beating heart of the Church.