Peter said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The words Jesus has for us are “Love your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” The words are simple but putting them into action is not always easy.
For example when we proclaim a truth, do we do so with love? St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) said, “Do not accept anything as truth that lacks love and do not accept anything as love that lacks truth. One without the other is a destructive lie.”
The second half is easy for us to understand. If we tell someone that we love them but do not love them, it can only lead to disappointment, confusion and distrust.
The first half, “do not accept anything as truth that lacks love,” is more difficult. There are many truths that the Church teaches and that we have come to accept as truths that seem to stand on their own. For example, abortion is wrong. But if in our hearts we say, “abortion is wrong and all women who have had an abortion have committed an unforgiveable sin and all who perform abortions should go straight to hell,” we have truth without love. We must see abortion as a sin but love the sinner. Then our truth is abortion is wrong but we must help those who have had abortions find forgiveness and to pray that the eyes of the hearts of those who perform abortions are opened to the sin that is being committed.
Imagine if the United States Congress only proclaimed their truths accompanied by love instead of worshipping the ideology of their party lines. Then instead of “Obamacare is broken and those lazy people who won’t work shouldn’t get coverage anyway” becomes “Obamacare is broken but we must work to assure that all human beings have access to affordable healthcare.”
But we need to start with ourselves. If we say, “The gay lifestyle is not in accordance with church teachings and we do not want them in our church,” we again lack love. We should say, the gay lifestyle is not in accordance with church teachings but God created all of us in His image and we need make them welcome, yet pray that they cease to live the gay lifestyle. Again, hate the sin and love the sinner.
If we say that divorce and remarriage without an annulment is wrong and they should all be excommunicated forever, we once again lack love. Instead divorce and remarriage without an annulment is wrong and we should help these couples to seek an annulment. Then we treat them with love, yet do not waiver from the truth.
When we declare truths without love, we judge. Jesus has told us time and again that we are not called to judge others for that is His Father’s work. When we judge, our pride tells us we know better than God what needs to be done. When we judge, we certainly do not love our neighbors as ourselves. When we judge, often it’s because we don’t love ourselves.
My story is not unlike these. I was divorced and received an annulment, yet for many years after, I didn’t forgive myself for a failed marriage and in turn I found myself judging others, who got remarried without an annulment, severely. Finally during a retreat, I heard the words that changed my life. “If you do not accept God’s forgiveness, you are telling God that you are wiser than God.” From that moment, I no longer doubted that I had been forgiven for my divorce. I could fully love myself again and therefore truly love my neighbor as myself.
So if you find yourself judging others and lacking love when you proclaim truths, go to confession and get yourself right with God. If you find yourself hating the sin and the sinners, go to confession or seek counseling. You cannot love your neighbor unless you love yourself first.
“Do not accept anything as truth that lacks love and do not accept anything as love which lacks truth. One without the other is a destructive lie.” (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD)