I have always hated to say good-bye…I remember being teased by my older brother about crying when we would say good-bye to family members visiting from out of town and arguing with him that it was just the “sun that was in my eyes”. Contrary to what the poets would have us believe, parting from someone you love is not “sweet” sorrow. It is just sorrow. I believe I am not alone in thinking this.
Our hearts long for union, reunion and the intimacy of communion. We need connection, even if we are natural introverts. We need each other. We can find ourselves living in an impersonal and lonely world. Our homes and churches can and should be places of connection—places where loneliness and alienation are defeated by love. Sadly many of us have grown up in homes that were filled with pain and brokenness, and in churches that seemed to be harsh and almost anonymous—we would come, pray, listen and maybe we would receive the Eucharist but we left isolated.
However, we are missing the point if we fail to love—to reach out and care for our brothers and sisters. Our faith can and should overcome our isolation; we are called to love by the Holy Trinity who is LOVE and first loves us. Of course you will not be best friends with everyone in your parish but you should never come and go from a Divine Liturgy and not talk or connect with anyone. If we are Christian we are meant to reach out in love to one another. The Fathers of the Church tell us:
“If while you are singing a song of prayer to God one of your brethren knocks at the door of your cell, do not opt for the work of prayer rather than that of love and ignore your brother, for to act in that way would be alien to God. God desires love and mercy, not the sacrifice of prayer. (Hosea 6:6) Rather put aside the gift of prayer and speak with healing love to your brother. Then with tears and a contrite heart once more offer the gift of prayer to the Father of the spiritual powers and a righteous spirit will be renewed within you. “(Matthew 5:23-24; Psalm 51:10, 17) (Nikitas Stithatos IV On the Inner Nature of Things and on the Purification of the Intellect. Sec. 76. Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts—Selections Annotated & Explained, Translation by G.E.H Palmer, Phillip Sherrard and Bishop Kallistos Ware, 2013 (2nd Digital Ed.) Skylight Paths E-books.)
Our hearts soar, when we hear the music of Les Miserables “…to love another person is to see the face of God…” and yet we (myself included) find this difficult to apply to our parish family. We are called forth by our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuck to build ‘Vibrant Parishes’ but the foundation of this is the call to love one another–and this includes all the faithful; including the clergy and religious. Often we forget that they need to be included in this outpouring of love and mercy. They also need to see and experience strong and faith filled marriages and families to be encouraged in their own vocations as much as we need to see and experience them faithfully living out their vocations. The New Evangelization begins with all of us answering this call to love. As Andrew Comiskey put it in a recent blog :
“Each of us needs that encouragement from wiser ones who like us have walked in faith against a cruel unbelieving culture…(W)e whom Jesus leads out of any barren shameful land need fellow pilgrims. We need the holy-wrinkled who have endured the desert longer. Jesus in our fellow humanity is stronger than Jesus in our own hearts. Why else to we go to Church? Sorry I do not go just to find my Head. I go to find His body. [In the Eucharist we receive His Body in order to become His Body!] I need another to see and summon the Christ growing in me.” [Parentheses added] (Expecting More Together, December 21, 2015. Andrew has a powerful ministry to persons who experience sexual and relational brokenness—check out www.desertstream.org)
May we be encouraged in this Year of Mercy, recently proclaimed by Pope Francis, to both receive and spread God’s mercy and love in our homes, schools workplaces and most particularly in our parishes. Happy 2016!