I went to church today, which I don’t do all that often. The building is a beautiful, cavernous, ornate affair that is the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese in the city where I live. The alter is not at one end, as in most churches and cathedrals, but in the center with four great large halls, extending out in four different directions, like a compass, or a cross. The halls have rows of chairs and pews. The alter is a large stone block in the center of a circle of steps—very pagan actually.
So I sat and stood and kneeled and stood again and sat again, as is the custom. I sang beautiful songs, following my daughter’s tune because she has a gorgeous voice and is much practiced at liturgical signing. Then the priest gave the homily and it was a hard one, because it was about our responsibility to love others and not cower from the truth.
The priest did not mean the kind of soppy airy love that you might think of as infatuation, and he was clear on the fact that following the commandments was not what he meant by loving. In fact it seemed as if he was saying that one could follow the commandments to the letter and still not actually love. I think he was talking about that hard to achieve love of acceptance and tolerance and willingness to let others live, despite what we might think of their choices or behaviors. It is painful to realize that we are all god’s creatures, really, no matter how dreadful our behavior or our personalities.
Now about not cowering in fear from the truth, it kind of goes hand in hand with the responsibility to love, because we have a responsibility to recognize our own flaws and that we often look at others through the lens of our own notions of right and wrong. We cast people into categories and judge their worthiness. Well, I know I do, even if I try not to. And we often back away from telling the truth to avoid someone’s fury or to protect ourselves from someone’s strength and power over us. We think we are being kind, or mature, or professional by avoiding conflict, but can’t you think of a dreadful event that happened that might have been avoided if someone had been willing to risk telling the truth? Or can you think of a time when someone in power was allowed to be abusive because no came forward to speak the truth?
It is ok to justify excluding others and being silent about the truth because to include others or risk telling the truth could put us in harm’s way?