I've been starting to think my personal Lenten reflections on the topic of love my not be in line with traditional Lenten reflections of prayer, penance and almsgiving, but then I saw something in my Magnificat Lenten Companion that made me think I'm on the right track.
In the very back of the book, there are prayers for a few specific topics of importance especially for Lent. When I saw the topic, "Prayer to Grow in Love," I knew I was on the right track with my Lenten theme. "The measure of our Lenten observance will be our growth in love," it says. In that case, I think I picked the right topic!
In the New Testament Jesus gives a challenge like no other. He says that if we do not our neighbor, we do not love God. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16) He did not give conditions to statement either. He didn't say, we only have to love the neighbor who is nice to us, who talks with us, who is our family or friends, when we are in a good mood, or when we feel like loving. He even specifies that it is even a greater love if we love the person who doesn't talk to us, the person who rubs us the wrong way, who is rude to us, who we do not know, have never met, or who we do not like, or doesn't like us. Pope Benedict reiterates this challenge of real love in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est. He says that if we do have love for our neighbor (no matter what the circumstance) we do not have love for God. He even brings this challenge into the Church when he says that the Church's obligation to provide the sacraments is just as important as her obligation for charitable works. "The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word." (par.22) and consider this also (par. 25 a)
"The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being."One is not greater than the other!! If the church is held to such high standards, what does this mean for us? We are the church. Our receiving the sacraments is just as important as our loving and doing charitable works for our neighbors- ALL of our neighbors. The crying kids in the pew (with us or in two rows behind us), the lonely elderly who need someone to visit them and talk to them, the person who doesn't like us who needs us to step up to show love first, even the person who we have never met, but who is in desperate need of our charity.
God says if we don't love our neighbors, we do not love him. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20) Sometimes that statement makes me take a big gulp because I know I have not lived up to it. The good news is we always have God's Mercy to fall back on when we fail. So I am asking God to forgive me and to help me start anew. This morning's prayers from the Magnificat spoke to my heart:
O God, you have loved us without our deserving it. You have forgiven us without our earning it. You have blessed us when we could not bless you. Grant us the grace to love as we have been loved, through Christ our Lord. Amen.