I heard a story the other day. It was about a little girl who was being bullied by another girl. This had been going on for much of the school year, and naturally, the girl being bullied was upset about it. So many times, we tell our kids to fight back. Stand up to the bully and they will stop picking on you. Be strong, don’t be weak. Push back.
But what did this little girl do? She started talking to the bully, trying to be her friend. She asked her mom if they could give the bully’s address to their church so they could contact their family, and then she invited the girl bullying her to go to church with her. I don’t know how this story ends. But I don’t need to know because the example has already been set. The lesson has already been taught.
Rather than fighting fire with fire, fist with fist, an eye for an eye – this little girl fought back with love. She talked to her bully. She genuinely cared about her, regardless of how she was being treated, she knew that it wasn’t about the bully not liking her – it was about the bully not liking herself and trying to fill that void with whatever means necessary, in this case, by picking on someone seen as more vulnerable. This little girl loved her bully enough to know that what she needed was Jesus in her heart.
This little girl was the witness of what it means to be Christian – and live the new commandment that Jesus gives us in todays Gospel – to love one another. She is truly being a disciple of Christ in that she loves not only those close to her, but she loved her enemy as well. She loved her enough to be nice and try to be her friend, and try to introduce her to Jesus and the grace that He provides.
I was simply blown away by this. If only we all could live like this. If only we all could love one another like this. This little girl turned her suffering into something good. She turned her suffering into an opportunity to take someone else’s life, someone who may be struggling much more than her, someone who was lashing out at her, and she simply tried to love her in the midst of all of that and use her suffering as an opportunity to bring her bully into a relationship with Jesus.
Out of the mouth of babes… If only we were all so wise.
This is our challenge resulting from today’s readings. It is so simple. I often think Christians, and especially Catholics think too much. Don’t get me wrong, there is so much depth and meaning in scripture and in our faith and the Magisterium of our Church. And we need theologians and clergy and scholars who are much smarter than I to decipher it all and translate its’ meaning. But I often think we think about stuff and analyze and contemplate things too much. Too much sometimes that we don’t just act. I think many times, we get in our own way. We may read the readings, and of course, there may be two or three or four or more different meanings we can take from them on any given day. But I think most times, it is so simple.
And today, this is our very challenge. The Gospel reading is short. And the main message is this – “Love one another.” That’s it! Jesus had just been betrayed by Judas, and what was His next lesson? It wasn’t “go get him! Stop him!” It wasn’t revenge and taking up arms. Nope… It was, “love one another.”
Yes, this includes our enemies.
Jesus surely loved Judas. And when He was betrayed, it must have pierced His very soul. But He never stopped loving Him. This is our challenge – to be like Christ. We must love one another, as Christ did. Even those who betray us, and persecute us.
I admit, I don’t know how to do this very well. I could play a tough game and write that we all should love our enemies and how we should treat those closest to us. But I admit – I have a hard time loving some people who are not nice to me, who attack me, who persecute others, those who commit evils and atrocities. Or how can I love the person who cuts me off in traffic nearly causing a multi-car pileup, or almost runs me over in the crosswalk when I have the right of way. Even those closer to me – how can I love them despite certain behaviors and actions and mistakes?
But Jesus tells us we need to love each other – period. We must take all that into account, all the shortcomings and imperfections, and love them anyway. We must love those in this world that commit evils, and pray that they see the light and change their ways, and pray for their souls, and love them anyway, for they know not what they do.
For many years, I’ve often wondered and asked God how can I do this? How can I love those that wrong me, and commit unthinkable evil, and treat others wrongly? How do I love the person or persons who killed 8 members of a family yesterday in Ohio here in the U.S.? How do I love ISIS and other terrorists? How do I love the people behind the attacks in Paris or Brussels?
How do I do what Jesus is telling us to do today in the Gospel? We’ve become so hard and coarse in todays world, and when I see things like this, I want them to be punished. When tragedies happen to the seemingly innocent, I want an eye for an eye.
How can I love those who persecute? Those who attack? Those who hate?
I received part of the answer in a homily from our pastor a couple weeks ago. When he asked himself this question, and he realized that he could not. He could not love others – everyone – on his own. He alone could not love one another equally by his sheer will; let alone those who persecute others. Only God could give him the grace to do so.
But again, how? Then I heard the story of the little girl. She took a situation that is all too common in todays world, one that causes so much heartache and sadness and despair, so much that suicide is a common result, and she flipped it around. She did as Christ would have done, and she proved to me that it can be done. Rather than fighting her suffering with more suffering – she reached out.
She used her problem, her situation, for something better. Of course she wanted to stop being bullied, but she realized that this person needed something in their life, and that Jesus was the only way. She used her suffering for something good, and she showed her faith and her integrity. As the first reading states today in Acts of the Apostles, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s not so much about the hardships – we all have them – at varying levels.
It’s about how we respond. It’s about how we respond to adversity, and to those who wrong us and persecute us and those around us.
The little girl knows. She knows, as John wrote in Revelations, that God will be with us and will wipe away our every tear.
It’s so easy to talk about our faith and loving others when things are going our way, or are happening from a distance. But when you’re living day to day in inner-city Indianapolis or New York, or rural Appalachia in the eastern U.S., or needing food in Haiti, or being persecuted for your faith and who you are in Europe or Africa – how do you find the love?
When your marriage is failing, or you’re having troubles at work with your boss or co-workers – how do you find the love? In a world of instant pleasure and gratification and conveniences, how do you find the love for simplicity and sacrifice and humility? In a world of anger – how do you find the love and peace in it all?
The answer is not complex. It is so simple. We think too much. All the little girl did is talk. She tried to become friends with her bully and talk to her. She invited her to get to know Jesus. She was Christ-like amidst her adversity. I don’t know how this story ends. I don’t know if the bully went to church, or if she is ever going to, or if the bullying stopped. But maybe, just maybe, the love the bully received from the little girl made her think enough for her to change how she treats others.
This is our duty as Christians, as witnesses of His love and mercy. We cannot hate – we must love and respect one another. Our duty as Catholics is to live out this Gospel best we can, and share the graces we are given through the Church, the best we can. It’s our duty to take the lemons we’re given in life, and turn them into some kind of lemonade, even if it’s only for others.
We as Catholics need to be Catholic. I think sometimes we forget what that means. We need to be all-embracing, and universal in our love and respect for others. And that love may simply be a prayer, an act of kindness, or an invitation to someone. This is what Catholic means. All-encompassing. All-inclusive. It’s so hard to do this in today’s world. But people like this little girl show me that it’s possible.
If we all did a little more of this, if we just loved one another – what kind of a world would it be?
(ACTS 14:21-27; Ps 145; REV 21:1-5A; JN 13:31-33A, 34-35)