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get closer

Ocean Beach, California.  I love being close to the beach.
Quite a few characters there that I found hard to love, though.
I was preparing a lecture on Catherine of Genoa this afternoon and came across the following disturbing sentences:  "She was greatly zealous in ... bringing help to the sick and the poor to the best of her ability.  She would clean the most nauseating filth, and if she felt her stomach heaving, she would put some of it in her mouth to overcome her squeamishness."  I felt a bit sick just reading that, to be honest.  I don't understand how putting something disgusting in your mouth can help you overcome nausea.  To me, it makes more sense to drop the offensive article and get as far away as possible!  But the principle behind Catherine's action is simple:  if you find it hard to love, get closer. 

The same kind of attitude could be seen in Mother Teresa.  She cared for the sick and the dying, touching them, feeding them, bathing them, and she never found them repulsive.  Why?  Because there was something greater at work than the filth or the smell.  She said:  "No, I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God."  Love overcomes any bad or repugnant smell, any awful disease or repulsive behaviour.  Mother Teresa also said: "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  We forget that we belong to each other because we have put distance between ourselves and others.  Distance makes it easy to see people in terms of us and them: men and women, poor and rich, liberals and conservatives, different races, countries, and religions.  And the more we can keep people at a distance, the easier it is to judge them, condemn them, ignore them.  I believe this is one of the reasons why gossip is such a dreadful and deadly activity.  Because it involves talking about people instead of to them, it allows us to objectify them and their situations instead of acknowledging that they are human beings just like us.  There is no love and no call to compassionate action in gossip; there is only distance and disdain.

Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, tells the story of a gang member who was trying to get his life straight.  Father Greg offered the young man a job but told him that he would have to work beside someone from a rival gang.  The young man reluctantly agreed, insisting that he would work beside him, but he wouldn't talk to him.  The first day on the job, it was obvious that the two young men were enemies.  Six months later, one of the them was viciously attacked and ended up in a hospital, unresponsive.  The first young man called Father Greg and said, "Is there anything I can do?  Can I give him my blood?"  There was a pause and the young man continued, "He was not my enemy; he was my friend.  We worked together."  Proximity erodes indifference and hatred. 

If we don't love someone, we need to get closer, work with them, learn who they are, find out their story, have a meal together.  We may not become best friends or even find much in common, but we will begin to care.  We will begin to see them as a person who craves love and acceptance, a person who is broken in some ways and generous in others.  Just like us.

People often ask Father Greg, "Does this sort of change of heart happen all the time between enemies who work together?"  "Yes," he replies.  And he would know.


Peter Watt said…
Well put. We need to get closer to our enemies. Last night we were talking about the last supper and that Jesus washed everyone's feet, including Judas. We need to show as much, if not more, love to our enemies and in doing so we will end up loving them. Or as another writer I read today put it "I absolutely believe that a good Christian will develop a heart for wherever they're placed.". Enjoyed this one, thanks!

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