Monday, June 23, 2014

Loving Ugly

Statue of Homeless Jesus
In sports, we often talk about "winning ugly."  As Christians, it's time we start talking about "loving ugly." 

In other words, we need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to love our neighbors even when they don't live up to our almighty expectations.  We need to look beyond the pedigree or paperwork or social position or nationality which we deem worthy.  And we need to ponder the mysterious fact that God himself loves ugly.

It's not that God thinks ugliness is a good thing, of course.  It was certainly not part of his original plan.  Rather, having allowed us the freedom to love as we desire, God is willing to reach out to us even when we've rejected or mocked or silenced him.  Moreover, Jesus revealed that he expects his followers to do the same: "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:45). 

From a merely worldly perspective, this is either ridiculous or down-right offensive.  In the eyes of the Pharisaical world, only perfect people count.  Whether it's the "beautiful crowd" (judging by outward physical appearances, of course), or whether it's those gifted with strength, smarts, or wealth, the message is all about dividing and conquering:  We're in--you're out; we measure up--you never will.  Those who are into "loving pretty" basically imply that they are the "blessed" and that the rest of us should step aside.  The economy of exclusion and spiritual Gnosticism both hinge on such a mentality, as Pope Francis has pointed out, since some people count more than others.  And most don't count at all.

The Good News, however, is not for perfect people.  The Good News is that we do not need to be "worthy" before God will love us; nor do we need to earn his love.  No, the Good News revealed by Jesus Christ is this: "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.  I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mk 2:17).  Indeed, God so loved the world that he decided to give us his own heart, his Son, while we were still sinners.  This only begotten Son took on all the brutality and suffering which the world had to offer, even if the "righteous" convince themselves that they are already good enough and not in need of a divine physician.   

Youth and young adults today have great radar for such arrogance; they have keen eyes for what is "lame."  They seem to see right through the fallacies of the so-called "wealth and wellness" gospel, in which God heaps rewards upon my head when I am good and the Cross of Christ is thus eliminated from the Christian life.  They also seem to sense that merely trying to be good is not going to get the job done.

What youth and young adults seem to be looking for is an authentic and fully human witness which loves even the lame.  The God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth is just such a "grinder," to return to common sports lingo.  He alone is willing to wait us out, even if our conversion of heart has been decades in coming.  He alone is willing to enter into our daily struggles, since he's painstakingly shouldered our Crosses and opened the door of Hope through his physical death and Resurrection.  Furthermore, he alone is willing to walk the journey of human history with us, defending each and every person's dignity--"deserving" or not. 

It's not always pretty, of course, given fallen human nature.  But our God is not afraid to get "down and dirty" on our behalf.

This is the will of the Father who renews his gift of the Son through the work of the Spirit in the mysterious sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood:  God loves us ugly because he wants to recreate us in his beautiful, Trinitarian image.  "Enough with the isolated individualism and the self-inflicted wounds," God seems to say; "just open yourself to the mystery of self-giving Love, and I'll re-shape my own image and likeness in you."

We have been made for communion with others and with God.  Though it's never perfect here on earth, the Kingdom of Heaven takes another step forward each time we reach out to those who are in need of the Divine Physician.  He alone knows our pain.  He alone sees our brokenness and loves us despite it.  He alone can transform all of our losses into glorious victories.