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Spirituality of the Readings
Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year C
February 20, 2022
John Foley, SJ
How to Love

I don’t know if you have read the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and it’s all small stuff) by Richard Carlson. It offers advice and examples as to how we can live a loving and (more) peaceful life.

If you get a reward for each thing you do, you are just like the pagans.

One chapter shows us a way to be patient rather than upset when someone else does an annoying thing. For instance, if a car swerves in front of you, instead of your asking, “why in the ‘%$#’ did he do that?” ask the question, “what is he trying to teach me?” It is like a game in which everyone is wise and you want to learn.

That question changed my perspective a number of times.

When a car went through a very narrow opening behind a truck and careened into my lane with several inches to spare, I tried this method. Instead of leaning on the horn and unpacking some road-rage, I asked what the swerver was teaching me.

Honestly, it softened my attitude and gave me some compassion.

I am not trying to sell copies of Carlson’s books here, though I surely like this one.* I am pointing out how new attitudes can be helpful, and how the generous writing of Dr. Carlson soothed me into trying one on.

Jesus lived before Dr. Carlson, of course, and he suggested the same big perspective-change. The Lord’s prose is a bit jagged, less consoling. In fact, he seems to be hammering at the crowd.

In Sunday’s Gospel he describes us as trying to bargain for everything. If someone loves us, then we agree to love them in return. If they run their car over our flower-bed or nearly knock us out of the crosswalk, then we are angry and substitute bad feelings for love. After all, who could be nice to a robber in the act of robbing you?

Jesus recommends the opposite. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Don’t ask for anything in return.

Ulp, maybe we should go back to Richard Carlson! How can we love without return? “Lend money and expect nothing back,” Jesus says. If you get a reward for each thing you do, you are just like the pagans.

But is it even possible to just love and love and love and never get our own empty tank filled back up? Wouldn’t that be the road to burnout?

The wonderful clue to Jesus’ answer is found toward the bottom half of today’s reading. He says that if we can give without guile, then we will be like “children of the Most High,” who is always kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

How can God be “always kind”? Because his needs are all already filled. His tender love does not need reward, and so it overflows to us no matter what we do.

If we know this, if we experience it—say, in the Sacraments, or in prayer, or in another person—and if we let it in, then maybe our need-tanks will be pre-filled. Maybe our love can start to overflow to others as God's does.

How about that as a change in perspective.

John Foley, SJ
 * Unfortunately, Dr Carlson died in 2006 from a pulmonary embolism, during a flight from San Francisco to New York while on a promotion tour for one of his books. Maybe, following his compassionate advice, he was ready to accept! In any case, we will miss him.