By Sarah Stanley
“If you judge people you have no time to love them.” – Saint Teresa of Calcutta
From the time I was a little girl, my mom drilled this concept into my head. She didn’t necessarily use the exact words of Mother Teresa, but she was firm in her belief (and requirement) that my younger sister and I go one step past the Golden Rule and
treat others even better than we would want to be treated.
It was my mom who first encouraged me to think about how my actions, no matter how seemingly small, affected others. To this day, when I find myself frustrated with someone my mom still reminds me that appearances can be deceiving and we can never truly know what struggles are carried by others and how unseen pain may affect their behavior. Yet amidst this complexity of our human experience and our inability to comprehend what is not our own, there is one thing I do know with absolute certainty:
we are called to love and the love we are called to is an active love.
Today’s readings are saturated with this call to an active love. In the Gospel we hear the famous passage where Jesus urges his disciples (ahem us) to turn the other cheek. Jesus’s response to a person’s poor behavior is not to ignore their actions but it is also not to reprimand them for their wrong doing or to cast judgement upon them. Christ’s response is to give even more of himself in an unconditional outpouring of love for the other despite who they are or what they have done. “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.”
These are not easy tasks and probably not the first responses that come to mind when someone is unkind. I imagine that when Jesus shared these words with his disciples there was probably an unsettled feeling in some of them which maybe even prompted some push back.
“Wait a second, if that guy hits me you want me to do what?!” or “I’m already going out of my way for a mile in the desert and you want me to double it? Cool.”
And as I reflect on this passage, I cannot help but think of times in my own life that mirrored these examples of Christ’s call to active love--and frankly how challenging this call can be. “That girl has been rude and unkind without even knowing me and you want me to sit and actively listen to why she thinks I deserve that treatment?” or “I just worked crazy long hours all week and you’re expecting me to spend my first day off helping at an event that I purposefully didn’t sign up for? Awesome.”
The call to love is hard.
It requires a lot less effort to be selfish, apathetic and cold then it does to be selfless, empathetic and compassionate. But we are created in the image of God and called to act similarly. “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” Today’s Psalm even gives a beautiful description of what that holiness looks like. “The Lord is kind and merciful.” This is active love.
Simple and elegant with no qualifiers.
In a world that seems more and more divided each day, where both sides are quick to point fingers, cast judgement upon the other and unabashedly claim that they are wisest, may we be reminded of these words from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”
From a very young age my mom taught me that I can never know everything, but what I can do is love--actively, abundantly and without reservation.
Seek to love, not to be right.
I pray that through her example, the example of saints like Mother Teresa and of course the example of Jesus that I may seek to actively love others fully and unconditionally “slow to anger, abounding in kindness”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey there! I'm Sarah, a small town Ohio girl who is mildly obsessed with all things Ignatian and is very passionate about faith, social justice and the intersection of the two. I recently earned a Master of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and am now the Director of Christian Service at a Jesuit high school in Connecticut. When I'm not working I enjoy travel, running, contagious laughter, clever puns and finding the good in all things.