Taking the Other Seriously

Today’s reading comes from LV 19:1-2, 11-18

Too often do modern Christians, along with modern critics of Christianity, focus on one facet of the law of love for neighbor that they completely ignore the other.  Take for instance this verse from the passage:

You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”

What we immediately hone in on is the second to last bit when YHWH directs the Israelites to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  But what about the first part of that commandment – the bolded part?  What about the part when YHWH is telling the people that there is a time when it is necessary to tell another person that s/he is sinning?  Or, and this is more interesting, that by not reproving our brothers and sisters in their sinning that we incur sin because love demands that we take them serious enough to help them become holy.

Let us then not forget this very first part of that commandment.  It is important for us to remember that if we love others as we do ourselves that we would correct them in their mistakes.  The mistake, of course, is to think that in reprimanding the one we love, we hate him or her.  But this is silly.  Just as we do not literally hate ourselves after we realized we had made a mistake, and yet we also reprove ourselves so that we can act differently in the future under the same circumstance; it is therefore also necessary that loving others like we love ourselves demands the same approach.

Charity precludes hostility, maliciousness, a spirit of revenge-seeking, and bearing grudges; but it also precludes indifferentism and relativism.  Love, St. Thomas tells us, means willing the good of the other as other, and this willing this good will require us to take them seriously enought to tell them what’s bad.

Happy Monday of the first week of Lent, friends.

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Fasting For God or For Me?

Today’s reading comes from IS 58:1-9A

Fasting is an ancient discipline, and one that Israel took up order to show YHWH their faithfulness.  But this passage gives us a glimpse of the hypocritical attitude that the Israelites had when it came to fasting.  They supposedly fasted for YHWH, but they were unhappy when He took no notice of their fasting – an act, instead of offering as a gift, they considered a mighty service they were providing the Divine.  They charged YHWH with impartiality when He found no pleasure in their fasting.

Isaiah does not mince his words here.  They afflicted themselves but sought no relieve for those who were afflicted.  They fasted in order to provide an external image of discipline and love for YHWH, but their interiority was filled with disorder and chaos.  Yes, they performed the right “acts”, but they persisted in their sins.  They demanded forgiveness by YHWH, and yet provided no forgiveness of their own to others.  They fasted in order to accuse others of not fasting, rather than fasting for themselves.  This was their hypocrisy and YHWH hated it: “You cannot fast as you do today, and expect your voices to be heard from on high.”

And so Isaiah’s words here should provide us with a good measure for our own Lenten practices.  Why are we doing the things that we are doing?  Or why are we giving up the things that we are giving up?  Is it so that we can change, or is it so that others may take notice?  Are we doing it for the sake of growth in our own relationship with the Lord, or is it for our own benefit?  This is a matter between each person and God, and God is one who knows the depths of every heart so let us pray that when the Lord finds our hearts that he may be pleased with our fasting and prayer.

Happy Friday after Ash Wednesday, friends.

The Christian’s Hopeful Melancholy

Indeed, the wisdom of Augustine’s felix culpa allows us to understand that there is hope in a fallen world that seems hopeless.  And at no other time during the liturgical year are we reminded this more than on Ash Wednesday: remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  In the these very words uttered is an unmistakable hope that every Christian clings on to: this returning to dust does not mark the end, but rather the very beginning of an eternal reality that has been awaiting him since he was first formed in his mother’s womb.  Praying, Repenting, and Fasting are ways that the Christian is called to prepare himself for this eternal reality.

Richard Crashaw’s A Song of Divine Love reflects so beautifully the hope of the Christian as he faces his return to dust.  On this Ash Wednesday, let us reflect upon Crashaw’s words along with this question: how am I preparing myself to meet my God when the day comes?

Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face,
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire
I die in love’s delicious fire.
O Love, I am thy sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns, that I
Still may behold though still I die.

Though still I die, I live again,
Still longing so to be still slain;
So gainful is such loss of breath,
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living death and dying life:
For while thou sweetly slayest me,
Dead to myself, I live in Thee.