Monday, April 27, 2009

Love Is All You Need!

When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, Catholic school children were trained to follow the rules. The girls carried chapel veils in their pockets or purses so they would have their heads covered, and the boys were warned to behave like young gentlemen whenever we went to church. A boy in my class was rapped on the knuckles in front of the class by Sister Rigida for crossing his ankles at the communion rail. The grownups had their own rules and regulations. I stayed at my Aunt Mary’s for a few days when my sister Nan was born. I remember her lifting the little piece of salt pork out of the baked beans that Friday before serving supper.

Looking back, the grownups of my parents’ generation behaved a lot like the members of the Synagogue of Freedmen in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. They had come to Jerusalem from North Africa, from Alexandra in Egypt, and Cyrene, which is now in Libya. They argued with Stephen the Deacon, but couldn’t win the arguments, since Stephen was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So they had him arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, and charged that he was plotting to destroy the temple in Jerusalem. For which he was stoned to death. Compared to that, wearing a Kleenex on your head when you forget your chapel veil, or getting your knuckles rapped for crossing your legs at the Communion rail isn’t half bad.

On the other hand, the problem isn’t about whether the offense is serious or trivial. The problem is that religion is not measured by the number of times we avoid the Don’ts, because the list of Don’ts is interminable. Our relationship with God (that’s what the word ‘religion’ means, by the way) is gauged by the attitude with which we accomplish the Do’s. Let me rephrase that, because there is only one DO: LOVE, and it has only two parts: LOVE God with all your heart, and mind and might; and LOVE your neighbor as you want God to love you.

Today’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John remind us that our religion is not gauged by the number of times we avoid the DO NOTs, or accomplish the DOs. (By the way, there’s an interminable list of DO NOTs, for the Pharisees of Stephen’s era and those of our own – There are so many rules, you’re bound to break one, probably one you’ve never heard of!) And it’s not about believing in Jesus because we’ve seen signs and wonders, since most of us aren’t going to see any. Our religion is not a matter of do’s and don’ts, of rules and regulations. Our relationship with God [that’s what religion means] is a matter of attitude, an attitude that can be described, defined and totally encompassed by a single word: LOVE. The Father so loves us that He gave his only-begotten Son ; the Son so loves us that He gave his life to save us from the punishment we deserve for our sins; the two of them so love us that they sent their Holy Spirit to inspire us to love God will all our heart, and mind and might; and to love one another as God has loved us. John, Paul, Mark and Luke were theologians who wrote gospels and epistles. John, Paul, George and Ringo were musicians who wrote pop songs. But the message of the first quartet can be summarized in the words of the second quartet: ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

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