Jesus once told us, His followers, that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. And the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus Raises the Bar
Today, as He prepares His Church for the time when He will no longer be visible among us, He raises the bar even further. We are no longer to simply love one another as we love ourselves, Jesus instructs us to love one another as He has loved us.
We need only to look at the cross to see how Jesus loved us. Love is not simply hearts and flowers and good feelings. True, deep, radiant love, is sacrificial in nature. We may not all be called to give up our physical life for another but we are all called to sacrifice for each other.
The Nazi Soldier and the Gypsy Girl
Cardinal Basil Hume of London once told a story about a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two.
The list of undesirables, according the to the Third Reich, was long. It included not only Jews, but Catholics, Gays, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma Gypsies, the disabled, blacks, and every citizen of Poland. All were subject to arrest and execution, usually by being sentenced to the gas chamber.
At one camp the line for the gas chamber was very long. The faces of the people waiting to enter the chamber showed a range of emotions. Some were in shock. Some were in denial. Some were filled with anger at what was happening and some were filled with fear at what was about to happen. And some were crying.
In that line was a little gypsy girl, holding a doll in her hand, and she was crying. As the line moved along it passed a gauntlet of Nazi guards. One guard saw the little girl crying and it touched something in his heart. In some dim corner of his soul he remembered this truth, this commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.”
But what could he do? He was only one man. He couldn't fight against a camp of soldiers armed with machine guns, much less the entire Nazi war machine. As he watched the little girl, sobbing, clutching her doll, he knew there was only one thing he could do. He walked over to her, took her hand, and together they walked into the gas chamber, and together they died.
This is what Christ did for us on the cross. He laid down his life for us. His death and resurrection destroyed the power of death. That's the way Jesus loves us. And that's the way we are called to love each other.
“The mark by which all men will know you for my disciples will be the love you bear one another.” John 13:35
Love and the Art Critic
All of the gifts we have received from God, all of our talents, abilities and blessings, are given to us that we may put them at the service of our brothers and sisters. This is what it means to sacrifice our lives for one another and to love as Jesus has loved us.
That is not to say it is easy, far from it. We may dismiss this commandment thinking that it is only for those who are already saints. But that simply isn't the case. It is the path that will lead us all to sanctity. We may think the commandment is unrealistic, that it just isn't possible to be so self-sacrificing, but if that were the case, Jesus would not have given us the command.
Artists are often told to not take criticism of their work personally. After all, we are told, they are not criticizing you, just your work. But when you are passionate about the work you do, whatever the work may be, your work is part of you. It is difficult to not take it personally.
Now of course some criticism is warranted, it forces us to take a step back and honestly evaluate what we are doing and where we could improve. This is referred to as “constructive criticism.” It helps us and guides into developing our gifts and talents to the highest degree. This type of criticism comes from love and understanding, a genuine desire to help the artist grow and develop.
But there is another type of criticism, one born of hatred and ignorance. It does not seek to understand, it has no interest in being helpful, it is simply meant to tear down rather than build up.
When we face criticism of our work we must discern which type of criticism it is. Does it come from understanding or ignorance? Is the critic someone who understands our work, our journey, and truly wishes to help? Or is the critic merely interested in their own self worth and has no interest in understanding what we are trying to do?
We are called to love those who hate us, how do we do this? The first step may be to understand that hatred is often born out of ignorance. There is a progression from ignorance to fear to hatred to a desire to destroy. In order to love those who hate us we need to understand that perhaps those who hate us, do not understand us. We cannot control how people react to us, or our work, but we can control how we receive that reaction.
We need to stop being lukewarm Christians. We need to make a decision. We need to decide that following Christ, striving to live as He would have us live, is to be our highest priority. God can help us, guide us, and teach us how, but there is one thing He cannot do. He cannot choose this path for us, we can only do that for ourselves.
We must listen to the Holy Spirit, guided by grace, and ask ourselves; do we live for ourselves or do we live for others? Do we sacrifice not only for friends and family but for our community, the Church, as well? This is what it means to be Christian. Sacrificial love can convince the world of the rightness of our faith. It is the proof of all teachings, dogmas, and moral precepts of the Christian Church.
Let us resolve to begin every day with a commitment to love one another as Christ has loved us.
5th Sunday in Easter
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.organd can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com