Central Idea: The call to have the mind of Christ is the call to love in our own particular situations and places, not in vague, general terms.

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus,

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard, Easy to be cold

How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud, Easy to say no

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice

Many of you have asked about my former teaching career.  I mainly taught Sophomore Theology, but I also had a peculiar sideline teaching Film Appreciation.  I am a bit of a film buff, having seen every Best Picture Winner ever. (I can tell you’re impressed.) I have seen a fair amount of foreign films (impressive again) and I study the art of cinema. Part of my curriculum was showing clips from the movie HAIR, based on the infamous musical.  Now before you go write the Archbishop, let me just say that there was a “legitimate academic reason” for this (we were talking about MOVEMENT in film) and none of the clips had anything objectionable in them.  (Well, mostly…)

One of the clips I showed them was the scene with the song I just quoted: Easy to be Hard.  In it, the former fiancée of a member of the hippie tribe wants to talk to him about the child, a four year old boy, whom they had together.  Whoops. He completely ignores her. He tells her that his life is different.  He tells her that he has to leave the past behind.  He tells her that he has moved on and is now called to deal with bigger issues, bigger problems, bigger themes, cosmic matters.  He cannot be bothered with petty things, you know, like her and her child

And he walks away angrily and coldly.

It is then she belts out this tour de force song:

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard, Easy to be cold

How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud, Easy to say no

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice

Do you only care about being proud

How about I need a friend, I need a friend

This is a poignant theme throughout great literature.  In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book The Brothers Karamazov, an old wise priest, Fr. Zossima tells the story of a disillusioned doctor who had great and noble dreams of universal love but bitter disappointments in dealing with the real thing. “I love humanity,” the doctor says, “but the more I love humanity in general, the less I love people in particular.”  While his dreams portray visions of doing wonderful and great things, saving humankind, in his day-to-day life the good doctor can’t stand the people around him.  Sound familiar?

I often hear people say: I love God, I love Jesus, but I don’t want anything to do with organized religion.  As Dana Carvey’s Church Lady might say: “Isn’t that special?” It is easiest thing to do, to care about strangers.  It is the easiest to do, to care about evil and social injustice.  We are against it! But to love in the particular, to love in the everyday, to love in the real world, with people who drive you crazy, well, that’s another story.  I can love deeply and compassionately, as long as it is vague, formless, indefinable and safe.  To love this here person who gets on my last nerve, well, thanks, but no thanks!

The late author, Fr. John Kavanaugh wrote: For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t deserve to exist, or at least those who bother us. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Anyone close to us sooner or later restricts our precious freedom.

This is where the great hymn in Philippians comes into play.  Paul tells us that our mind has to be like Christ’s.  And what was in the mind of Christ?  He emptied himself and entered into the mess, the muck, the mischief of human existence.  Our God is not a God who loves us from a safe distance, who loves us in vague and imprecise terms, who loves us in general.  Our God is not a God who only cares about evil and social injustice out there.  Our God is a God who loves us in the particular, in the everyday, in our annoying, irritating, infuriating, grating, aggravating, frustratingly particular little selves.

The problem of Dostoevsky’s doctor and Hair’s irresponsible hippie is that they both want to love and be loved, but they don’t want to deal with love’s cost, nor its responsibility. For love is more than logic, proofs, or rationality.  Love is more than just loving what is trendy and now.  As Fr. Kavanaugh writes: It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than to be served. This risk is the crux of the Christian belief in the mystery of love: first, that God would love us; second, that we, graced by such bounty, might generously love others.

Think about your particular situations.  Think about those people close to you who get on your last nerve.  Think about how difficult it is to love in the here and now, in the actual lives we have been given.  And then think about how deeply you are loved by God and how you are indeed called to share the mind of Christ.

It’s easy to be hard, but it hard to love as Jesus did.

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Homily for the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Central Idea: God’s grace helps us see beyond the differences, to welcome those who are different and alien. The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD…I will bring to my holy mountain and make [...]

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