Monday, February 25, 2019

Finding New Ways to Love in the Epoch of Power

Don't judge. Don't condemn.

Everybody is quick to say, "Of course not. We shouldn't judge anybody." Yet we don't really know what we're talking about.

There are lots of things to be said about this point. I just want to indicate the fact that, too often, what we mean by "being non-judgmental" is actually "being uninvolved."

We think "don't judge" means "don't take the risk of grappling in a real human relationship with a person who is different from us, much less a person who needs help." We talk about "tolerance" but what we mean is that we don't care about anybody beyond ourselves and/or our own group. Under the disguise of superficial sentimental expressions of mutual affirmation, we are growing more isolated from one another.

But Jesus says that instead of judging and condemning one another we must love one another, give of ourselves to one another, forgive one another. This has never been easy, and in today's world it is in some ways harder than ever.

We are still at the threshold of an emerging "new epoch" dominated by power, and we must endure all the tumultuous intensity of its unprecedented experiments in "stretching" the capacities of human persons and environments. Finding ourselves in this bewildering and conflicted ambient, many of us are confused about our own identity, afflicted by trauma, and desperate to protect ourselves.

God alone judges us, and perhaps we can better appreciate this as a blessing. Even as the Lord sees us entirely and scrutinizes our hidden faults, he also knows all the complex circumstances that constrain us and that can diminish somewhat (and even to a significant degree) our culpability.

This brave new world, with its unprecedented and ongoing multiplication of so many kinds of power, smashes and breaks people in the places where they are vulnerable. It's a world of constant mental strain, and those who cannot keep up with the pace of its relentless, absorbing expansion of forces—or at least manage the stress—must shift through the wreckage it leaves behind in themselves.

These are traumatic times. Not surprisingly, many of us are traumatized. Naturally, we are trying to protect ourselves, and we seek out various forms of isolation, motivated by a combination of fear and the instinct for survival.

A few of us can try to hold on strictly by ourselves; we are the intellectuals who analyze everything and commit to nothing. More often, we are isolated "together" behind the fortress walls of our tribes—our illusory substitutes for commitment and community—bound together by violence and fear and the desire to make war on others.

But the light of the Gospel shines even in times like these. The Gospel addresses our whole humanity, and its power not only brings eternal life but also offers the best hope of subordinating the vast scope of our power to the wisdom of an integral humanism and a deeper awareness of the dignity of the person.

Jesus says "stop judging" and "stop condemning," but at the same time he says, "Give..." which is akin to the exhortation to love, to suffer for the sake of justice, to lose ourselves for his sake so that we might truly find ourselves.

But he does not only exhort us. He draws us on the path that he himself has made through the cross to the resurrection.

Perhaps the closest step in this journey for each one of us is expressed in the words of this text that echo the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive and you will be forgiven."

Every time we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we implore God our Father for the fulfillment of all reality and of our own lives: for our daily bread, for his will, for deliverance from evil, for the coming of his kingdom.

In the midst of these pleadings, we make one petition in explicit relation to our own conduct: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The call to forgive others appears to be laden with psychological associations that can seem crushing insofar as we have been deeply hurt by others. But there is no simple formula for expressing how the psychological and emotional profile of forgiveness should play itself out in a person's subjective experience. Wherever we may feel ourselves to be, we can only turn to God and beg him to empower us to give him what he asks of us.

God always loves us first. He wants to heal us and to open our hearts to receive his forgiveness and share it with others. Jesus came for forgiveness of sins. He came with the readiness to pour out a good measure, an overflowing love by which we might love him and one another.

He promises that good measure, and even now he prompts us to ask him to change us, to make us capable of receiving it, to be freed for the outpouring of forgiveness. He will show us the way and he will carry us on his shoulders.