Have we accepted the notion of Christian love yet in our lives? Jesus gave us a very clear standard of this, the standard of the cross. First he told us what Christian love is, at the Last Supper: “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” No one forced Him. Then he showed us what Christian love is, by laying down his life on the cross. The crucifix, the central image in all of our churches, is the standard of Christian love.
True Love is so different than what we hear in the love songs on the radio or see in movies and on television. It’s so different than what we see typically happen in a Disney movie when two Characters fall in love and marry, the scene cuts and they live happily ever after. They never talk about the work that a man and a woman do in sustaining a happy marriage for 50 years. To build any loving relationship and sustain a friendship in love is not always easy. Love is about going out of ourselves and being more concerned for others than ourselves. Doing things for others, dying of our own egos for others.
Living this way is hard, even St. Therese of Lisieux in her autobiography Story of a Soul talks about wanting to obey Jesus’ commandment to love one’s enemies. She shared in that thought, but she even admitted that there were some people who annoyed her. Think of that, people can even annoy saints! There were some nuns in her community whom St. Therese did not like, but Therese set about going out of her way to treat them lovingly just as Christ would.
In our lives we all have them as well, people who rub us the wrong way, who push our buttons, and sometimes more seriously, people who are truly dangerous to our mental or physical health. What should we do when we encounter difficult people? In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us that if someone wrongs you we should go tell them they wronged you so that they reconcile. If they don’t take it seriously, have someone else go along with you and tell them. If they still don’t take it seriously tell the Church. And after all of that if they still don’t change, treat them as a tax collector or a gentile, which means we Love them.
This should be our response to the difficult people in our lives, simply to treat those people with love, regardless of our feelings. To love sometimes means telling the hard truths to someone that no one else will tell them. The truths that they really need to hear, so that they don’t damage their lives, and their futures, but it doesn’t mean going out lecture people and pointing figures. It doesn’t mean breaking down someone’s character by gossiping about them. Love means reaching out to others despite our feelings and helping them make the right decision.
In my life, and maybe in yours, I know I have been a difficult person in some people’s lives without knowing it at the time. I have always appreciated and always responded better to people who were patient with my faults and choose to point them out by building me up rather than tearing me down and keeping me down. Can we do the same for others? It is true there are just some people who will not listen to anyone no matter what it is, how it is said, or who says it, but we are still asked to love them. Let us always pray then for the difficult people in our lives and for ourselves that if today we hear His voice, we harden not our hearts.