Category Archives: love

What’s love got to do, got to do with it?

30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A 2017 (29 Oct)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

In the words of Tina Turner: What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
To which the answer, taken from today’s Gospel, is: Everything!!

We are created in the image of God who is love. Our hope, our joy, our happiness and our peace in this life are to be found and are centred in this one truth; that we are created in the image of love that we may love and know that we are loved.

When the Pharisee (who, like all Pharisees, was an expert in “the law and the prophets”) asks Jesus to identify the greatest among the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, Jesus summarises the entire law in his simple and profound reply:
We must love God with all our heart, mind and soul and we must love each other as we love ourselves.

Essentially, Jesus’ reply is quite orthodox. There’s nothing radical in the two commandments he quotes. The commandment to love God comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:5) and the command to love our neighbour comes from The Book of Leviticus (Lev 19:18). What is radical is that Jesus is saying emphatically that we can’t separate loving God from loving our neighbour.

The Pharisees professed great love for God in their obedience to the law but they demonstrated scarce love for the people; they were arrogant, aloof and critical.

Jesus is not throwing out the 613 commandments. He is simply saying that all the other commandments hang on the Greatest Commandment: love God and love your neighbour.

The love for God and neighbour are intently linked. Religious and political extremists of any persuasion who harm their neighbour in the name of God are about as far from God and the truth as can be imagined. They are testimony to the presence and reality of evil in the world.

This love that Jesus talks about is not some fleeting, fickle, self-indulgent emotion. It’s a courageous lifestyle that puts God first, others second, and self third.

First, he said, we must love God; starting with the heart.
When we desire what God desires, we love with our heart.
When we cherish and actively try to understand God’s love for us and the world, we love with our mind.

When we joyfully live our lives following those desires and that understanding, we love with our soul; with our whole being.

This is an intimate relationship with God; a relationship that constantly influences and directs our actions, our desires and our thoughts.
We can’t grow and sustain that relationship if we relegate it to an hour of worship on a Sunday. Our relationship with God, like all relationships, is fulfilling and rewarding in proportion to our commitment to it.

Opening our heart and mind to an intimate relationship with God can be as challenging as it is in human relationships. We find it difficult exposing and admitting our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, our deepest fears and desires; even to ourselves. Perhaps that’s why some find the Sacrament of Reconciliation daunting.

Trust is the core of our relationships with God and with each other.

In our human relationships Jesus says we must love our neighbour as we love our self.

So this would imply that if we are not able to love ourselves, we are not able to love our neighbour; and this obviously would seriously undermine our relationship with God.

In terms of self-love, Jesus is not for a moment referring to self-centred, conceited vanity that excludes love of anyone other than self.

The self-love Jesus is talking about is seeing ourselves, warts and all, as God’s beloved.

We love ourselves because we are loved; we are created in the image of God who is love. Nothing else is relevant.

This self-love is not dependent on our physical size, fat or thin; our intellect, bright or dim; age, old or young; physical condition, healthy or infirm; physical features, attractive or plain, athletic or disabled; our wealth, affluent or destitute; sexual orientation, gay or straight; our careers, success or failure; our popularity, liked or disliked.

Warts and all, we are God’s precious creation. We are loved as we are.
When we embrace that understanding of God’s love for us, we learn to love ourselves.
Through our numerous human differences we glimpse the vastness and diversity of God’s creation that is so much more than just me and my world.

Some years ago a young man in our parish asked me why he had not been born perfect like everyone else in his family. He’d been born with a physical disability. He was kind and gentle, humble and funny, intelligent and caring. It wasn’t difficult to see the image of God in his less than perfect body.

When we focus on what we don’t love about ourselves, wanting to be someone else, when we can’t find the love of God in ourselves, we become deaf and blind to the needs of others. If fact we share the same space as those who are blinded by the perception of their own brilliance.

The way we treat our neighbour then could be a reflection of our self-love.
It’s often easier to express our love for our neighbour who is far away; those caught up in political persecuted or abject poverty or those suffering from the consequences of natural disasters.

But the real test is with those closest to us; our families, friends, colleagues, parishioners; the waiter, shop assistant and hungry beggar. Do they see us as being kind and gentle, generous and compassionate, patient and considerate? Do they see the joy of our certainty of God’s love for us in our eyes and in our words; and in our actions?

The more love we carry in our hearts for God and our neighbour, the better we reflect the image of God that we each carry within us.

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Reflections of the parable of the Prodigal Son

24th Sunday Cycle C
11 September 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

When I first looked,about a week ago, at the Gospel reading for this weekend I was a little surprised and also a little shaken. Surprised because I preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son six months ago during Lent and shaken because this parable had been one of the prevailing themes during my retreat, 3 weeks ago, at St Beuno’s in Wales and I knew I couldn’t prepare a homily without being influenced by some of my reflections and I wasn’t sure whether these would be meaningful to anyone else. The retreat was 8 days of silence under the guidance of a spiritual director with who I met for half an hour each day and it was a wonderful experience.

In telling the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus was trying to do the impossible. He was trying to explain and describe in human terms, the unfathomable love of God the Father. And while we may be able to intellectually understand the concept of this absolute love, this understanding in itself doesn’t necessarily bring comfort or joy. Joyfulness comes when we can feel it; when we can understand that love in terms of our own human emotional experience of love. It’s a little like having an intellectual understanding of what is rain that really only becomes meaningful once we’ve got wet. Feeling and understanding the love of God the Father can be difficult. The whole notion of a father’s love is difficult for some people. We haven’t all had a loving, compassionate and understanding father as a reference and our notion of the love of God the Father may be inhibited by our life experiences of ourown fathers.

And the same is true of love. Many of our experiences of love come with unhappy baggage: hurt, unfulfilled expectations, disappointments and regrets. Many of our relationships, even our deepest relationships, are built on some kind of reciprocity; finding a balance between give and take. The unconditional love of God the Father is very different from most of our experiences of ‘father’ and of love.

To ‘feel’ the love of God the Father I think it helps to find a frame of reference within our own life experience that expresses that all-giving, all-forgiving love. It may be the love that we feel for a child or a baby; it could be a niece or a nephew or even an unknown child. The picture showing a small boy lying face down in the sand on a Turkish beach that flooded the media this time last year evoked huge outrage but perhaps also for a moment we experienced that love, that desire to comfort, hold and heal, that we can’t explain. I have found that praying to God the Father wrapped in my experience of love as a grandfather has brought me to a new understanding and experience of God’s love for me.Perhaps you may like to think of a relationship that brings you great joy and approach God in that understanding of the Father’s love.

In the parable, in describing the actions of the prodigal son and his experiences after he left his father, Jesus is drawing a picture of some of the many temptations to sin that we experience in life and to which we so easily succumb. His audience would have been shocked and offended that Jesus could even suggest such behaviour. The young man’s actions in their human frame of reference and judgement were unimaginably immoral and unforgivable.

But the father loved his boy and waited, day in and day out for him to come back. In one of myreflections, father and son see each other from afar and cannot believe their eyes. They run to each other and the boy in tears tries to tell his Dad that he’s sorry but his father just hugs him tightly and says over and over again “No words, no words, my child. I’m just so happy that you’re back.” Perhaps as you imagine this scene you too can feel the call from the Father to run into his arms.

In another reflection, I found myself on the road with the young son returning home. His heart is heavy with shame and he’s uncertain of his father’s response. When he sees his father waving and running towards him he stops and then stumbles forward and his father takes him inhis arms and just holds him. The father is overcome with both joy and a deep sorrow that his child has suffered so much. Perhaps you can identify with the young man’s uncertainty and apprehension in returning to his father and asking for his forgiveness.  Fear not, the Father yearns for you day in and day out.

We know from the parable that the older son wasn’t happy when his brother was welcomed home. In a reflection I imagined the prodigal son begging his older brother to forgive him. Initially his appeal was scorned and the younger son was troubled and just couldn’t enjoy the celebration his father was planning for him. And he went again to his older brother and again he told him how sorry he was for leaving; sorry that he’d left him to shoulder the burden of the work alone. And the boys are reconciled and return to the house in high spirits to join the celebration. I know that’s not in Jesus’ telling of the parable but I think there’s a lesson there for us nevertheless. To find the peace and experience the joy and consolation that we seek in returning to the Father, we need also to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters; those who we have hurt through our selfishness, our egos, our stubbornness, our prejudices and our neglect.

Just as we are able to feel and experience God’s love for us through our human love for each other, so it is that we really feel God’s mercy through our mercy for one another.

Love fulfils everything

Les Ruhrmund
23rd Sunday
Year A 2014
7 September 2014

The readings this weekend touch on an aspect of our human relationships that is taxing both within and outside of our church faith community. They tackle the responsibility we have to deal with people who have offended us personally – and to do this in love, which is not easy. It is often easier in these situations to choose a path of silence that avoids conflict or alternatively a confrontational path that is inevitably judgemental and unkind.

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel writes that he has been given the responsibility of being God’s watchman; entrusted to warn God’s people of the consequences of their sinfulness and urge them to turn away from evil. God tells him that if he chooses to remain silent rather than speak out, he will be held personally responsible for their fate and will suffer the same unhappy destiny.

Paul in the verses we heard from his letter to the Romans has a very simple message: “Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The reading from Matthew’s Gospel follows on from the first reading.

Jesus had been with his disciples, followers and detractors long enough to know that in ego-sensitive communities and families there are going to be disagreements, differences of opinion, hurt feelings, mistakes and disappointments. He also understood that without a means to resolve these conflicts, the consequences could be very damaging. That is as true in our society today as it was 2000 years ago. One might have thought that in a world that is super connected and driven by social media, we’d have found more effective ways of handling our personal conflicts but I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, more often than not, the ease of communicating our hurt feelings and frustrations to a wide audience reduces the likelihood of an amicable outcome and complicates the conflict even further.

So let’s have a look at what Jesus says we should do to find a loving resolution when we feel that someone has deeply offended us.

First thing says Jesus is to tell the person; and that person only. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is remaining silent…….. and letting the grievance stew in our hearts and imaginations. The stew eventually comes to the boil and we’re then likely to act rashly and unkindly. Often, just speaking about it can make things better. Tell doesn’t mean write a letter or an email; or send an sms, whatsapp, mixit, or use any other means of written communication. Tell means speak. Tell the person privately…. that means no complaining to someone else, no anonymous letters, no cryptic comments on facebook.

We often find it difficult to tell someone face to face that they have offended us but it is the surest way to get a favourable response and a change in behaviour.

And we must be motivated by a sense of love. Often we are motivated by a desire to inflict pain in return. That’s jungle justice. Or we may be motivated by our perception of our own goodness. That’s arrogance. Our motivation should be to tell the persons how their words or actions have hurt us. That’s not the same as criticising their behaviour; that’s likely to elicit an aggressive response and create an argument. If those who have hurt us are made aware of the effect of their actions on us and are motivated to respond in love, we can expect a change of heart and behaviour and to have gained a friend.

If that doesn’t work, Jesus suggests that we try again but this time with the assistance of a wise person or persons. They’re not joining us to support our argument or to prove wrongdoing; they’re there to help find reconciliation. “For when two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

It may well be that we are the ones who are in the wrong and we need the wisdom of others to see our shortcomings and mistakes.

If that still fails, we must take our personal troubles to a higher level of expertise and wisdom. In Matthew’s gospel he’s addressing conflict within the Christian community specifically and that authority is the Church. It is in an environment of Christian prayer and love that conflicts in personal relationships are best resolved.

The next step seems a little out of character. Matthew says that if all the previous steps have failed then the person who has wronged us is to be regarded as a Gentile or a tax-collector. The first impression is that the person must be abandoned as hopeless and beyond redemption but Jesus cannot have meant that. He never set limits to human forgiveness or conversion.

Jesus spoke of tax-collectors and sinners with welcoming gentleness and love.

In the words of William Barclay : “It may be that what Jesus said was something like this: ‘When you have done all this, when you have given the sinner every chance, and when he remains stubborn and obdurate, you may think that he is no better than a renegade tax-collector, or even a godless Gentile. Well, you may be right. But I have not found the tax-gatherers and the Gentiles hopeless. My experience of them is that they, too, have a heart to be touched; and there are many of them, like Matthew and Zacchaeus, who have become my best friends. Even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, you may still win him (over), as I have done.’”

What Jesus says is not an injunction to walk away from people; it is a challenge to win them over with love. It is not a statement that some people are hopeless; it is a statement that Jesus has found no one hopeless – and neither must we.