Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop

Lectionary: 208

This is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another,
unlike Cain who belonged to the Evil One
and slaughtered his brother.

It may be, at times, difficult to know how to practice this “message you have heard from the beginning,” but we’re sure Cain did not love his brother. We can agree on that much! If we start from the philosophy of individualism, it’s impossible to imagine a response to Jesus’ command.

To put it crudely and with a load of judgment, individualists do not love others. By individualists I mean people who believe they are the center of the universe. But “they” don’t think of themselves as a group, there is only “I,” as in “I am the center of the universe, and you gravitate around me.”

That person may experience “love” but it is only the animal need for another person, which we all feel. Individualists get lonely, need comfort and reassurance and deserve compassion. But their beliefs and attitudes cripple them; they cannot actually experience the gift of other people.
When they think of love they think of two, as in sex. They think, “I need you and you need me. ‘You and I’ can care for each other and satisfy each other’s needs.” How many top ten hit parade songs have assumed that dyad is the foundation of love? But that “you and I” never becomes “us.” Experiencing the inevitable disappointment of every human relationship, they instantly revert to “me, myself and I.”

Hearing the message of today’s first reading individualists coo with pleasure, “we should love one another.” They also have a particular predilection for 1 Corinthians 13, as we hear it so often during weddings. But they have no idea that “love” involves any more than two persons.
Saint John wrote his gospels and his letters to congregations, not to cooing couples. These gatherings of men, women and children, probably of differing ethnicities and languages, consisting of a few wealthy and mostly poor, struggled to worship together. How would they do that? What did they owe to each other? How did they show courtesy and respect to one another? When they spoke different languages, which language would they use to worship God?

Were the wealthy expected to divest all their wealth, like the first Christians in Jerusalem? Were they expected to mingle freely among different castes and language groups, and to eat different ethnic foods?
How would they make decisions? Would the bishop settle every question? Did they vote on issues; and, if so, who had the right to vote? Did they prefer consensus and delay every decision until they reached consensus? All the historical evidence recalls profound differences and massive disagreements among the first Christians.

Individualists have no patience for the complex processes of community life. They amass their fortunes, build their walls and demand security.
The way we came to know love
was that he laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Laying down our lives for one another we ask not what is good for me and mine but what is good for us.  

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.