Paul’s beautiful hymn to love puts me in mind of some thoughts about Christian love that came to me many years ago.
In my parish in Korea I was preparing for a Sunday homily on the subject of, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It occured tom me that I had always taken that to mean I had to love my neighbor as much as I loved myself. But, what if God were really telling me to love my neighbor as though he or she were myself? That would be a command to practice empathy.
The following Sunday I had two morning Masses with confessions in between. That was back when you could not even have a drink of water after midnight if you were going to Communion or offering Mass.
After that second Mass I stood out talking to people, wishing they would leave so I could have breakfast. But things brightened up with two pretty girls stopping to chat with me. I was laughing with them when an old lady leaning on a stick came tugging at the right sleeve of my alb. She said, “Father, look at my bad eye.”
A quick look was enough. The eye looked like a badly fried egg. I was turning away when I remembered the Lord wanting me to love my neighbor as though she were myself.
Turning back to her, I found myself sharing her memory of how beautiful her eyes had once been. Then, I became aware of how the kids racing around us were coming close to that stick we were leaning against to stay upright.
As I was telling the kids to play someplace else I got to thinking that I hadn’t a cent to help the lady with doctor bills. Pushing that thought aside was the sudden remembrance that it had rained through the night, and the path over the hill from the lady’s house must have turned into a muddy stream.
I told the lady, “You are a hero for making it to Mass over that slippery path.”
Lifting her good eye to me, she said, “Oh, Father understands.”