Saturday, February 18, 2017

Agape Love

By Mary Beth Harney

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."
Leviticus 19:18

"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
(Matthew 5:43-48)

Author Unknown,
(Attributed to a battle-weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed

In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t mince words. He challenges his disciples to love not only those who love them, but to also love their enemies. He challenges them to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile. He challenges them to love the just and the unjust, and to love and even pray for their persecutors.  

What Jesus is teaching is radical or “agape” love. Agape love is committed to the highest good of the one loved. It is unconditional and voluntary love, with no preconditions. In his podcast homily for today (available on iTunes), Bishop Robert Barron speaks of loving with a divine indifference, that is, choosing to love and accept the other person as they are rather than measuring out our love based on merit or emotion. This is agape love.

Of course, this is easier said than done. And Jesus reminds us that holiness attained through such agape love is hard; it takes work. Jesus challenges us to love and show kindness to our family friends, to our trusted colleagues, and to our favorite neighbor or teacher. But Jesus also challenges us to show agape love towards the difficult persons in our life: the obnoxious co-worker, the bully, or the rude patron on the Metro.  

Lent is right around the corner. Now is the perfect time for us to ponder how we may show agape love to those around us. Are we willing to forgive those who mistreat us? Do we patiently lend an ear and listen to those in need? Are we willing to leave our comfort zone to help someone in need?

Pray for the courage to practice agape love towards someone who has hurt you in the past.  

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