(Note to those who are new to the Joy of Penance blog…I started this blog in 2014 as a place to post past newsletter articles I wrote for the Franciscan lay association I belong to, The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis. As providence would have it, I am nearly caught up on past articles with just a few more to go. I’m not sure what form this blog will take in future, only it will be as God wills. I will continue in the same vein until things change. Fiat!)
Luke 9:59-60 To another (Jesus) said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
Sentiment. The world is bursting with sentiment. Social media especially thrives on it. When a cause du jour goes viral and you examine the outcome of all the social media “activism”, what is really accomplished? Very little usually. That is because sentiment, in the romantic or nostalgic sense, is a fraud, a flimsy counterfeit of the agape love taught and lived by Jesus Christ. One is a marshmallow, the other is a rare and tender cut of steak. I say rare because with agape love, there is a cost, and often the cost is blood.
The young man in the Gospel reading above must have been shocked at Jesus’ words, as we also probably are. They seem unduly harsh. Dig deeper, however, and we see a pivotal point in the life of a young man. He was being called to a radical life of love and service to God and neighbor. Rare and tender. Bloody. This was no time to be sentimental. “Let others bury your father. You, follow me.” With radical agape love, there is no looking back.
This is a solid lesson for our times. We, like that young man, are being called to live lives of radical agape love in a world that despises it while worshiping sentiment, a world that prefers marshmallows to steak. The devil has certainly laid his groundwork well. So well, in fact that we often do not recognize in ourselves when we are acting with real love or reacting to a cause du jour.
How do we tell the difference between sentiment and real love? Simply put, sentiment is based on emotion, while real love is based on thoughtful reasoning. Sentiment is what lets a woman believe that her right to choose supersedes her unborn child’s right to life. It is an emotional response, not a reasoned one. Science is very clearly on the side of the unborn child. But if you read the “pro-choice” arguments, or indeed any arguments these days that focus on issues opposed to life, what you find is emotion—marshmallows.
Real love, agape love is, as they say, a decision. A woman with an unplanned pregnancy who knows what real love is, acts with thoughtful reasoning and decides for her child, even though it will cost her in many ways. Real love seeks the good of the other, the common good; it works for unity and real harmony. Sentiment is self-seeking, self-gratifying, self-esteeming; its fruits are division and the fraudulent harmony that allows for everything while respecting nothing. Self-esteem is the impostor; self-respect, now that’s the real deal. If we act in a way that preserves our self-respect, self-esteem won’t be an issue.
Let us be very careful not to become pawns of the enemy. If we are getting emotional about an issue, we need to step back. If we are feeling outraged, we need to think and pray. Hurling insults and barbs is not reasonable and certainly not what we are called to as Christians, even when reason dictates that the other party is clearly in the wrong. If reason is not effective—and it often isn’t where emotional or intellectual pride is involved—then our response must be silent prayer. Archbishop Sheen illustrates the point so adeptly:
“If my own eternal salvation were conditioned upon saving the soul of one self-wise man who prided himself on his learning, or one hundred of the most morally corrupt men and women of the streets, I should choose the easier task of converting the hundred. Nothing is more difficult to conquer in all the world than intellectual pride. If battleships could be lined with it instead of with armor, no shell could ever pierce them.” –Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Seven Capital Sins)
Let us, as they say, think twice before we speak (or comment) instead of speaking twice before we think. There may be a cost, but at least we won’t be contributing to the proliferation of marshmallows in the world.