One of my favorite sayings about Jesus is that “He spoke with authority.” When people heard Him speak they recognized that what He said was profoundly true, that He knew. He understood what their lives were about. He did not speak in platitudes. For Jesus, love was demanding. It was not a word used lightly for it required sacrifice. It was something He worked at: facing the truth, siding with the poor, struggling against evil, denouncing sin, following His call, making difficult decisions, and maintaining hope through these decisions. Eventually He was killed for His attempts to love. One wonders why He would have been killed if He was just a preacher of a sentimental type of love and understanding; who would have objected to that?
The Dominican priest Herbert McCabe claimed that the greatest enemy of Christianity was not self-interest but sentimentality. Many of us are not convincing because we speak in platitudes, especially about love. We suffer from the illusion that we must be right if we act out of love and that loving is easy and natural, requiring no training and discipline.
The more basic virtue than love is truth, and our struggle is to do the truth in love. McCabe pointed out, “Every moral problem of the slightest interest is a problem about who is to get hurt; an injunction to love everyone concerned does not help decide that question.” For adults the question is often not “to hurt or not to hurt” but whom to hurt with justice. Politicians who have to decide who benefits from limited resources, doctors whom to treat and when to stop, parents who must decide between work and family, all know the complexity of real moral decisions.
We wish that life was easier, that love was simpler and that it would bring us peace and wholeness but occasionally it does the reverse. It fragments us and divides our hearts. It demands hard decisions and real discipline. But that is the nature of being an adult. The refusal to acknowledge this reality is to blur the pain and the glory of real love. It is to opt for platitudes and not to speak with an authority that convinces.
Originally seen in Columban Mission Magazine June/July 2013