A friend posted a Dorothy Day quote a few weeks ago that snagged my attention and troubled me (in a good way): “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” If you have even the vaguest interest in the Infinite Creator or a passing inclination to get to know Him better, Dorothy’s assertion is at least annoying. There are plenty of people in the world I don’t love very much (no really – plenty), and if Dorothy is right, they are totally ruining my run for sainthood.
Feeling vividly connected to God and ardently in love and drawn nearer to him is pretty easy in the comfort of my pew, or in the still and expectant silence of a winter morning. Heck, even in the middle of a festive gathering of friends I get notions of the infinite and loving (more or less, depending on just what breed of festiveness we’re talking about). But when that one guy who gets on my nerves comes around? Whatever. You’re killing my pious buzz, dude. And that sneaky, catty girl who makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up is definitely exempt from my Thomas-Merton-at-the-intersection-of-the-universe moment.
To add a splash of irony to this hardy stew of hypocrisy, there are others who have been true sources of sadness and sorrow for me, people toward whom frustration and bitterness would be understandable (though still unjustifiable). Thanks to years of literature, movies, and televised professional help, though, I am far more inclined to make the effort (effort, mind you, does not equal success) to extend them reconciliation and mercy from my righteous judgment than I am that obnoxious woman who’s always – never mind.
I believe in respecting people for all that they are. That means both recognizing their shortcomings (contrary to popular belief, we do in fact all have them) and acknowledging their gifts. And yet, faced with a person who irritates me about as much as a pebble in my shoe, I almost invariably linger over the first part, taking my sweet time about getting to the second. In some cases, I have brought procrastination of affirmation to levels most bored teenagers could never hope to attain. And what business have I, who claim to love God and be seeking His will, withholding from any soul the kindness and love that have been poured on me with such gratuitous generosity?
God makes Himself glaringly visible in my life in innumerable ways. One is that, during Mass, even when my mind wanders as far from the Sacrament as Dorothy (not Day) from Kansas, there will come a sharp, sticking thought. Of, say, one such irritating person, perhaps, and then I cannot look at the cross and consider the Body of Christ, the mercy flowing from Christ’s wounds, without knowing that what was done for me was done for all. In the comfort of my pew, I’m suddenly confronted with both my own failings and how loved my personal irritators are.
Of course, there’s no arguing with God when He points that out, and I’m left with just one, unsavory course of action: love these people.
With deference to Dorothy Day, I hope that the paradoxical reality may be that my love for God and my desire to love Him more are what enable me to love anybody at all; that the two may build each other. I trust it is so. And… fine. I will make every effort to love these brothers and sisters. If I have to.