Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Would you like to read a poem today? Try this one, or rather these lines from a poem. It was written in 1948 by an American poet named Jessica Powers. It takes its title from the first words: “My heart ran forth.” It ran forth propagating a wonderful ideal of love for everybody to follow.
…But wisdom halted it, out far afield,
asked: did you sow this seed
around your house, or in the neighbour’s garden
or any nearby acreage of need?
No? then it will not grow in outer places.
Love has its proper soil, its native land;
Its first roots fasten on the near-at-hand.
Back toward the house from which I deftly fled,
down neighbours’ lanes, across my father’s barley
my heart brought home its charity. It said:
love is a simple plant like a Creeping Charlie;
Once it takes root its talent is to spread.
She captured the tendency in all of us to place love (and all the things that challenge us) at a distance. We place them at a distance (1) in time, or (2) in place.
1. We are always willing to postpone good things, someone said, but bad things we do right away. We would like to postpone faith, hope and love: to put them over the horizon and into the future. But fear, greed and anger we attend to immediately. Love is one of the good things – the very best, St Paul said (“the greatest of these is love” 1 Cor. 13:13) – so we tend to postpone it. But somewhere deep in us there is the wisdom to know that love is for now or never.
2. And we wouldn’t mind loving people who are at a safe distance, as Jessica Powers let us see in that poem. When I love I make myself vulnerable. But if I am afraid of that I won’t love.
If only we could do the good things now, and postpone the bad things! What a world it would be if our love were as quick and as warm and as long-lasting as our hate! A wise man said a startling thing to me once: “There’s no future!” I thought he was expressing despair about the country or the modern world…. But he didn’t seem at all a despairing kind of person. Quite the contrary. “There’s no future,” he repeated cheerfully. “The future exists only in your head, nowhere else. It is only an idea. So don’t tell me what you’re going to do in the future! Tell me what you’re doing now!” I’ve had plenty of time since then to think about it. How right he was! Who am I? What am I? I am what I’m doing now. If I don’t love the people and the things around me now I am not a loving person and I can have nothing to say about love. We don’t say, “Give us tomorrow our daily bread.” We want real bread, not an idea of bread. Real things are for now. And God, too, is for now. If I don’t love now I know nothing about God. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” wrote St John (1 John 4:8).
Jessica Powers didn’t compare love to a dainty plant but to a common weed, a Creeping Charlie. We might say, Dandelions. It should be as ordinary as that, and as familiar, and as irrepressible!