Matthew 22:34-40, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
One word that can describe our lives in the pandemic is “change.” Yes, change. Things have changed. Things are changing. The way we work. The way we go to school and study. The way we worship. The way we keep in touch with family and friends. The way we live inside our homes. The way we eat. The way we entertain ourselves and watch movies. The way we take care of our health. Everything seems to gravitate toward two things: one, our computers, cellphones, or gadgets, for online connection with everyone and with everything; and two, our homes or residences, where we are forced to stay indoors as permanently as possible for the sake of our health and safety. Covid has made us internet-bound, and home-bound. That is how our lives have changed. With restricted mobility, our world has gone small, but paradoxically, it has also gone much bigger through the limitless scope of the world wide web, http, html, and Facebook.
What about love? What about the way we love? Has this changed in this pandemic? How has Covid changed love and loving? I think yes, Covid is changing our understanding of love, our ways of loving. How is this so? Perhaps in at least three things: One, loving beyond the physical. Two, loving ourselves more deeply. And three, loving others more.
First, loving beyond the physical. Covid has separated us physically but has not severed our relationships. We are finding ways on how to keep our loving relationships strong amid the absence of touching, embracing, kissing, being physically near, present, accessible. We assure ourselves that love remains, perhaps even more deeply and more meaningfully, at the realm of the spiritual, transcending time, overcoming space and absence. We are experiencing frequent deaths in the pandemic, and our hearts are torn apart when we could not be present when our loved one passed; our togetherness through wakes and funerals are snatched away from us; we can only say goodbye through phone calls and prayers. Our love for each other has deepened toward the transcendent: with the impossibility of the physical, we have depended on, and asserted, the reality of love as intrinsically spiritual.
Second, Covid is making us love ourselves more deeply. Each day passes with us seeing more and more of ourselves and our complexities like never before. With less of the distractions of travel and social interaction, our moments of being alone, of solitude, are lengthening in moments, days, months. These moments have facilitated greater self-knowledge, self-confrontation, self-questioning. We get to know our feelings more, our reactions, our angsts, our longings, who and what we miss most, and why. We grapple and wrestle with ourselves. We see our best and worst versions, the finished products and the works-in-progress, the soft spots, the hard spots, the blind spots, the bright spots, the dark spots. Those aspects of our lives and our selves that are seemingly irreconcilable, irreparable even, irreplaceable, irredeemable. Those qualities that shine, are steady and stable, and those that are vulnerable, mellow, and dramatic. Wherever we are tossed and turned in our daily mirror of selves in this pandemic, we are learning how to take care of ourselves more, accept ourselves, be at peace, be secure, and even work at changing our selves. Our interior lives have become more dynamic and alive. And with all these, is the lesson of loving ourselves more deeply. More self-care, self-appreciation, self-affirmation, more honest self-loving, and being comfortable and ok with that.
Third, Covid is inspiring us to share more of our love to others. We are moving into the eighth month of the pandemic, with no end in sight, still no glimpse and glitter of light at the end of very long tunnel. Many of us are managing well in this darkness, but so many are not: they are languishing, they are suffering. As the uncertainties of the vaccine solution become more and more prolonged or protracted, and if lockdowns and restrictions persist, more people will lose their jobs, more people will sink in poverty, more will be worried and scared, more will feel hopeless and desperate, more will be unwell physically and psychologically, and more families, especially more children will go hungry. We do not need the numbers and statistics, staggering as they are, to understand the gravity and urgency of the situation. This calls us to help. Help those we can help: in our households, in our communities, those outside and far from us. This calls us to do our share of easing the suffering of many. This calls us to extend our love and our loving to them. Covid is compelling us to do more in loving others who need more of our love, care, and attention.
Our readings today speak of love and loving. In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us, in no uncertain terms, that loving God means loving neighbor. It cannot be either/or. They are two sides of the same coin. No ifs and buts. The Pharisee was asking him for only one, the greatest commandment, and Jesus answered with two: love God and love others, which are essentially one and inseparable. The response of Jesus provides us with a clear measure, a barometer of loving: if we say we love God, we should ask ourselves another question, in the same breath, with the same intensity and weight, and that question is, do I love my neighbor. And that neighbor is oftentimes described in the Gospel and everywhere else in Scripture, like our First Reading, as not just the ordinary neighbor, but the neighbor is one who is in special need of our attention, our compassion, our help – the widows, the orphans, the hungry, the imprisoned, the strangers, the sick and dying, those deprived of justice and freedom.Such is how demanding the Gospel is. Such is how disturbing it is.
Such is how our Christian faith is, demanding and disturbing.
But there is Good News. And the Good News is the first answer of Jesus. To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. Loving God totally. And being loved by God absolutely. This loving relationship sparks a miracle, a mystery. It empowers us to do more and to give more. We will uphold loving as spiritual, beyond the physical. We will have courage to face our selves, and love our selves more honestly. We will have the desire and energy to give more generously to love and serve others who need us. The miracle and mystery is this: through God’s love, we will love others. We will grow more deeply in loving. Love begets more loving. Love generates itself; love grows, deepens, extends, stretches, expands, spreads, magnifies, transcends, overflows. Love is limitless. Because it comes from God, the source of it all. As we responded in the Psalm, “I love you Lord, my strength.” If we are rooted in this amazing and abundant and strengthening love of God, we will be able to love more in this time of Covid, and beyond.