By now whatever was fun about staying at home, like missing school or working in the comfort of our living rooms, is wearing off. Those of us fortunate enough not to be suffering from the virus are wrestling with life under quarantine. Some are stuck at home, some still required to work outside; some struggling to work at home in a full house, some having lost their jobs and wondering how they will get by, some sick, some scared of getting sick or infecting others. If we find ourselves failing to love those around us, there are reasons enough to explain why.
Still, it seems more likely that our friction with others, which at other times we have been able to avoid by keeping our distance, has been there all along. If we are honest, we know there are unpleasant facts about ourselves and others that in the normal course of things we don’t really have to face. But at this moment no one is safe.
There is a simple test to see how we are doing and it comes from Scripture. It’s the loftiest description of love, read frequently and as frequently overlooked, but it’s also the most practical. Listen to St. Paul: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7).
These words both delight and sting us at the same time. As we put our names in the place of love in those verses—as the Scriptures intend by personifying love—the words both inflate our hearts and burst our belief that we are loving others as well as we should. This is exactly how we want to be treated and not how we treat others.
St. John Henry Newman tells us that talking about love as a concept, like loving mankind, is not love but talk. “The real love of man must depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising itself on our friends around us, otherwise it will have no existence.” Love does not exist, Newman says, except in relationships; and you can’t have a relationship with humanity.
Newman presses us to think locally: “By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.”
Only by specific acts of love does love grow. It takes love to form love. Now what will give us the courage to begin? Nothing less than letting our Lord love us as personally and practically as He expects us to love one another. He knows how weak we are, how every day we let Him and others down and have to begin again. He still delights in us—defects and all—dwelling instead on the excellences He has given us. God rejoices in our very being.
When we let Him love us by breathing in the inspired words of Scripture and listening to Him in silence, we will no longer view those verses from Corinthians as a test to pass or fail, but an invitation to the celebration of giving of ourselves to others.
What better way to enter in than by praying for those close to us, both in our homes and next door to us? From here we will be led to consider how we can help them in this time of widespread suffering and hardship.