Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Not Counting the Cost

Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.
Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.
Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you.
Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.
Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you.
Pray always. I will be your rest.
The Little Mandate of Madonna House

Love... love... love, never counting the cost. – We are going through the Little Mandate, the core words of our MH vocation, each Tuesday on the blog. Today we come to this most challenging sentence: love without ever counting the cost.

The three-fold repetition of love is not without meaning here. It implies a choice made over and over again in life. To choose to love is not a one-time affair; it has to be done every day, multiple times each day.

It sound cheesy and hippie-ish to say it, but it is my firm conviction (and in fact the clear teaching of Christ, which is rather more important) that this is the answer to all the world’s woes and the terrible evils of our time. To love without counting the cost, to love without measure or limit or end to our love.

It sounds like a hippy slogan (‘All you need is love, da da da da daaaa!’) because our notion of love is so poor and sentimental. Love for us is either warm cozy feelings and puppy dog cuteness or it is eroticized display. But neither of those things is love, particularly. You may have warm feelings or sexual desire for this or that person, and neither of these is contradictory to love, but love itself is neither of those.

To love is to desire the good for the other, and to pursue that good, to choose that good as if it were one’s own deepest good. In our world today, we think ‘love’ means never hurting anyone’s feelings, but this does not stand up to a moment’s analysis, does it? Some of the best things that have happened to me have involved very hurt feelings on my part, painful realizations of truth about myself or about life. It is not love, but cowardly selfishness, that seeks to protect the other person from some difficult truth lest their feelings be hurt.

Love and truth walk hand in hand. We cannot really know the good of the other nor pursue it as if it were our own if we do not know the objective truth of things and the subjective truth of where this person is, what their life is like. Love involves a lot of listening, a lot of careful and compassionate attention to the other.

And love requires interior integrity, my own fidelity to the Truth about reality. As a Roman Catholic, I firmly believe that truth about reality is revealed by Jesus Christ in Scripture and Tradition, preserved and handed on faithfully by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. And so a loving choice can never be a choice to compromise that truth or deny it in service of ‘friendly relations’.

At the same time, as love requires truth, so truth requires great love, great generosity, great kindness and gentleness and mercy. All of which comes at enormous cost, if we take any of this at all seriously and actually put it into practice. It is the hard and narrow path of the Gospel, and there are so many easier ways to live, constantly available to us.

The way of false tolerance, where we just pretend that everyone’s OK and that nothing really matters anyhow. The way of anger and harshness, where we set ourselves up as a little tribunal of judgment of everyone (and this is hardly limited to, or even especially typical of religious people these days – it is epidemic). The way of retreat into an enclave of like-minded friends. The way of oblivion, selfish concern for one’s own affairs.

And probably a half-dozen other easy ways, none of which do anything in the slightest to heal the world’s ills and make everything so much worse, really. To assume the cost of real love, real compassionate service, real sacrifice and real giving of oneself to everyone God puts before you, and to not ‘count’ that cost—that is what heals the world.

And this ‘not counting’ means that there is never a time that comes when we say ‘no more love for this one!’ Never a time when anyone can do anything, no matter how heinous, that would remove them from the circle of our love, our concern, our compassion, our prayer, our desire for their good. And that is of the utmost importance—it is too easy to write people off these days, to join the baying crowd of condemnation or to consign people to the outer darkness of our contempt.

But if we think hard and clear about that, that is the culture of death in action, isn’t it? The culture of death says that the value of a person is contingent on what they do or can do—fetuses and the disabled or elderly are less valuable and so can be killed, and so forth (to put it rather baldly). But if I decide that your value is lessened, that you are not worthy of my compassion or love because of some misdeed or sin, then I am as much part of that culture of death as an abortionist or a euthanasist.

No, love without counting the cost, love everyone, compassion and mercy for everyone, in truth, in integrity—this is what we need today. It is anything but sentimental and cheesy; it is the rocky road to Calvary, but beyond that to the joy and beauty of Easter.

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