Love's reality takes us well beyond naivete, romance


Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi

May 21, 2012

Several years ago, a Presbyterian minister I know challenged his congregation to open its doors and its heart more fully to the poor. The congregation initially responded with enthusiasm and a number of programs were introduced that invited people from the less-privileged economic areas of the city, including a number of street people, to come their church.

But the romance soon died as coffee cups and other loose items began to disappear, some handbags were stolen, and the church and meeting space were often left messy and soiled.

A number of the congregation began to complain and demand an end to the experiment: "This isn't what we expected. Our church isn't clean and safe anymore. We wanted to reach out to these people and this is what we get. This is too messy to continue."

The minister held his ground, pointing out that their expectations were naïve, that what they were experiencing was precisely part of the cost of reaching out to the poor, and that Jesus assures us that loving is unsafe and messy, not just in reaching out to the poor but in reaching out to anyone.

We like to think of ourselves as gracious and loving, but, the truth be told, that is predicated on an overly-naïve and overly-romanticized notion of love. We don't really love as Jesus invites us to when he says: Love each other as I have loved you. The tail-end of that sentence contains the challenge: Jesus doesn't say, love each other according to the spontaneous movements of your heart, nor love each other as society defines love, but rather: Love each other as I have loved you.

For the most part, we haven't done that:


We haven't loved as Jesus loved.

After his wife, Raissa, died, Jacques Maritain edited a book of her journals. In the Preface of that book he describes her struggle with the illness that eventually killed her.

Severely debilitated and unable to speak, she struggled mightily in her last days. Her suffering both tested and matured Maritain's own faith. Mightily sobered by seeing his wife's sufferings, he wrote: Only two kinds of people think that love is easy: saints, who through long years of self-sacrifice have made a habit of virtue, and naïve persons who don't know what they're talking about.