To love someone is to draw on the well of love received that exists within. To believe that one is lovable, worthy of kindness and gentleness, generosity and truth, is a gift all by itself. Without that conviction, without that sense of self. the path is so much more challenging. To do things to “earn” love, to be a people-pleaser or practice self-deprecation far beyond modesty and humility, is to misunderstand the generosity of spirit that characterizes “the real thing”, love. For Catholics, faith and service go hand in hand; but that can easily distract from one of the most fundamental of teachings. A young priest highlighted that this morning in a short and powerful homily: to love your neighbor as yourself means you must love yourself, believe that you are loved. Otherwise, the well you draw from to love others finds its buckets dry and empty.
And yet, there are thousands of reasons to judge self unlovable, to live without fully trusting another and to cower before the power of bullies who would strip away the essence of human dignity. It can come with childhood trauma, invade the self-confident young adult, paralyze the broken-hearted and punish an erring child. The weight of ordinary mistakes and errors, the unexpected consequences of choices are compounded in actions and behaviors. Fear of further loss lodges beneath ordinary emotions and the cycle only deepens a spiraling discontent and deeper conviction that love is only an elusive gift reserved for those who are deserving, better than this, and simply worthy for unknown reasons.
Love, the real thing, is not like that at all. It is freely given and seeks only the best for other. It is not threatening nor dishonest; it does not contort truth or reality, and it speaks to the heart through words and actions with a consistency far beyond hopes. It is sourced in something other than self. For a Christian, that is God. For a Catholic, the readings of the day are a reminder of that mystery. Love, the real thing, allows for the emtional roller coaster of humanity yet it recognizes the importance of boundaries and limits, embraces well-being and recognizes illness and realizes life journeys are complicated, relationships have beginnngs and endings, hurt and grief are inevitably companions at times, but love itself goes on through it all.
To have even a glimpse of that “real love” is the gift of a lifetime. To be able to live it, to share it, to believe in it, is an even greater wonder. That gift demands stepping away from belittling self or others. It asks for the best of who we are in so many ways, and it enables us to become better than that. It dares us to look beyond the surface, the outside, and clearly see the whole of self and other. Because that is how God looks at us, as cherished treasures, loved beyond understanding and so able to love others and self. That is a well never meant to run dry.