Sunday, May 02, 2010

Is There a Very Thin Line Between Love and Hate?

(Fifth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on May 2, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 13: 31-35.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Easter 2010]

Here’s a brief excerpt from an article that appeared in the Providence Journal in late March of this year. I’ve changed the names of the two people involved out of respect for their relatives; but the other details remain, just as they were reported by the Journal:

“The medical examiner has determined that the young couple found dead early Wednesday morning in their apartment each died from a gunshot wound to the head, according to the police.

‘The police are calling the death of Philip Jones, 26, and his wife, Melissa, 21, a murder-suicide, saying Jones apparently shot Melissa and [then] turned the gun on himself.”

Incidents like this, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Quite to the contrary, they seem to be occurring with ever-growing frequency in our modern American culture.

We read about them in newspapers all the time.

But this really shouldn’t surprise us. At least I don’t think it should surprise us. We’ve all heard the old adage, “There’s a very thin line between love and hate.”

That’s true—if you have the wrong notion of love in your mind and heart! And I would say that many, many people in our society right now fall into this category.

They do not know what real love is! They do not understand what real love is all about! They make the serious and sometimes fatal mistake of thinking that love is an emotion! And so when their positive emotions toward another person lessen or disappear (as they often do in every relationship), their “love” for that person lessens or disappears. But that’s only half the story. In most cases the strong positive feelings which the person mistakenly identified as love become equally strong negative feelings: anger, frustration—and perhaps even hatred.

When you treat love as an emotion, there really is a very thin line between that kind of love and hatred.

That’s probably the way it was for that young married couple I mentioned a few moments ago.

This is not—I repeat, this is NOT—what Jesus Christ is talking about in today’s Gospel text when he says, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

That’s because for Jesus, love was not an emotion, it was a decision! It was a decision to desire the good for others; and it was a decision to do whatever was necessary to help others attain the good—especially the ultimate good of eternal life!

This is why he died on that cross! Let’s be clear about it, Jesus did not shed his blood on Mt. Calvary because he had “warm, fuzzy feelings” in his heart for everybody! Rather, it’s because he wanted what was truly good—eternal life—for everybody: even for people like the scribes and Pharisees, for whom he definitely did not have a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings most of the time!

Because Jesus loved people in this deeper, selfless way, he was able to love them even when he felt very strong negative emotions toward them!

He loved the money changers in the Temple, for example—and was willing to die for them—even as he was reprimanding them in anger, and saying to them, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a den of thieves!”

He loved his disciples and desired their eternal salvation, even when he felt incredible frustration toward them because of their lack of faith—a frustration that led him to cry out, “What an unbelieving and perverse lot you are! How long must I remain with you? How long can I endure you?”

He loved Simon Peter with an eternal love, even as he was saying to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You’re thinking the thoughts of men, not the thoughts of God.”

Jesus never sinned against these people (or anyone else, for that matter) because his love for others was not rooted in his emotions! It was rooted in his will, which was perfectly aligned with the will of his heavenly Father.

As I was preparing this homily, the thought occurred to me that those of you who are good parents should understand this message quite easily, since this is precisely how you love your children.

When your children misbehave (on those rare occasions!), I think it’s safe to say that you feel a lot of negative emotions toward them—anger, annoyance, frustration, etc., etc. But you don’t allow those negative emotions to override your ultimate desire that your children grow up to be healthy, happy, well-adjusted people.

You desire the good for your children—their proper development as human beings and followers of Christ—and that desire ultimately guides you in your response to them. So yes, you may have to punish them and punish them severely, but don’t write them off or do them irreparable physical harm (although your emotions might be pushing you in that direction!).

So today let our prayer be: Dear Lord Jesus, teach me the true meaning of love—the kind of love that led you to die on the cross for my salvation! Help me to see through the false ideas about love that are so prevalent in our culture right now, ideas that are often leading people to commit horrible acts of violence and hatred (like the murder-suicide mentioned at the beginning of today’s homily). Help me to realize that when people see love as an emotion, there really is a very thin line between love and hate; but when people understand that love is a decision—and when they make that decision regardless of how they feel—there is an insurmountable distance between love and hate. Thank you Jesus for teaching me that love as an emotion easily leads to violence and hatred, but love as a decision never does. Amen.