Love In Community
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
John 13: 1-17
The other day, I was speaking with a Franciscan friar who talked about community. The good thing about community, he says, is community; but the bad thing about community is…well, community. I was recently reading an article in a newspaper Catholic Worker where the author said that living in community is penance. That was a rather honest admission. When we hear the word “community” the thing that usually comes to mind is not the word “penance” but fellowship, mutuality, conviviality, generosity and love. But that is the ideal. The reality is - living with one another in community is challenging because we live with human beings, each having his or her foibles and idiosyncrasies. And with these things, we are bound to offend one another- whether consciously or unconsciously. Love is wonderful if you have a perfect human being to love. But as we know, there is no such a thing as a perfect human being. People can push our buttons. But we are to love them. People can annoy us. But we are to love them. People can hurt us, but we are to love them. It is because of this that love sometimes, often times does not feel very nice. Community, love could be penance.
Once I went on a retreat in a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts. In that monastery as it is in other Trappist monasteries, monks do not leave the grounds of the monastery except in very extreme circumstances. Each monk takes a vow of stability, meaning it is expected of the monk to spend the rest of his living with other monks. I met a monk who never left the ground for thirty years except once, an extreme medical emergency. No monk is ever to be ejected from community except if he is a poison to the life of the community. There is no escape for the monks from the community. For them, it is in community that they learn what love is all about. It is in community that they learn to bear patiently each other’s faults. It is in community that they learn not to react with rage when they get hurt. It is in community that they learn to give up self-centeredness, as they are forced to compromise, to yield to one another in love and even serve one another. It is in community that they learn to forgive the one who causes them pain. It is in community that they learn humility which is nothing but an acknowledgement that their very self is not the center of the world to which all life is ordered. There is nothing more humbling than to live in community when another person you encounter puts you in your place. The neighbor is the one who can teach us what love is all about. Community is not always nice. Community could be penance, but that is where we learn the hard ways of love.
Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel story today to love each other. If we read the Gospels, we will see that the disciples did not always get along. They annoyed one another. They competed with one another. If we read the letters of Paul to the various churches, a great deal of his admonition has something to do with church conflict and encouraging them to look upon each other with compassion and mercy, not indifference, prejudice or hate. Community can be penance. Church can be penance. But in washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus gave us an example of love- be humble towards one another, be of service to one another. The other day, I was reading some writings of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, in which she spoke about a rather difficult man living in her community. She said natural love dictates that we love only those we find likeable and lovable, but supernatural love requires us to love the unlovable and dislikeable. Then she goes on to say that natural love must be pruned by supernatural love. The shears that will prune our natural love so it can go supernaturally are people we find unlovable yet called to love. That was a very hard thing to read because I do have a few really unlovable and unlikeable persons I just cannot stand but challenged by the Gospel to love.
But what about people who can abuse our kindness? Shall we love them, too? Loving them is not about making ourselves doormats to be used and abused. Love in these circumstances is to carry them to God in prayer so we can let go of any meanness and bitterness we have for them. Remember when Jesus was on the Cross, he did not ask his Father to destroy his persecutors but he prayed for them. This is supernatural love. This is what Christian love includes. It is the most difficult. When I sit at times to really pray for people who don’t like me or people I dislike and find unbearable, Christian love can be a cross to bear. But there it is. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Christian love seeks to include all.
© 2015 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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