Recently our young Polish priest gave a homily about love. I have to say that whenever someone wants to talk authoritatively about love, I tune out. Too often, it seems that it’s the people who talk most about love who know least about it.
Love is like dancing or swimming. It’s learned only by doing. You can read all you want to about swimming, but you’ll never learn to swim without getting in the water. You can study dance steps, but you won’t learn to dance by sitting in your chair. No matter what you read, religious or secular, philosophy, theology, psychology—or even such experts as Hallmark or Nora Roberts—you learn nothing about love by reading.
So I was not inclined to listen to our young priest’s homily at first. But then he started by saying he would talk about what love is not. And that’s a pretty good start. When he said, “Love is not tolerance,” I decided to listen.
“My sheep know my voice.” Yes, we do. His is the voice that does not tell us he “respects” our choices. He doesn’t talk about “tolerating” our wishes when we wander wherever we want, into thickets and brambles from which we cannot extricate ourselves. The shepherd loves the sheep. He is not swayed by complaints, by bleating protests. He is not worried about getting his sheep to love him. His concern is for them, not for himself.
Sheep are not as stupid as hirelings think. They know that “tolerance” is another word for apathy. They know that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. The hireling talks about “forgiveness” when what he means is “permission.” There’s a universe of difference between the two words. Christ’s forgiveness is endless, but not a “jot or a tittle” of permission is granted. Because he loves us.
The hireling’s love is the kind that does not try to stop me when I blindly fall into the pit of addiction, that respects my right to pursue relationships that debase me, that permits me to commit the sin that will give me eternal sorrow and remorse, that wants to let me do my own thing (instead of my Father’s). I know that love. It’s toxic.
And I know the hireling’s voice. I know it very well. It was Peter’s voice when Christ told him to get behind him, it was the voice speaking to Eve in the garden, and it is the political pablum of our time, poured in our ears constantly, like velvet damnation.
It is not the voice of my shepherd.