A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a fellow brother about love of neighbor and, specifically, about love of the “neighbors” with whom we happen to live. (In our case here at the House of Studies, that means seventy-nine fellow friars!) We were discussing the great need for self-sacrifice in any vocation, be it religious life or marriage. Agreeing with a comment he had made, I said, “Yes, it goes beyond endearment,” and he responded, “Good point.” Eureka! I knew I had a topic for my next Dominicana post!
“Endearing” is defined as “inspiring affection or warm sympathy,” and “to endear” is “to cause to become beloved or admired.” It is a quality we find in many people, but we encounter it more often, it seems, in those we with whom don’t live with than in those with whom we do. When the next-door neighbor gives us fresh-baked cookies, we certainly find it endearing. We take the cookies, say thank you, shut the door, and enjoy. No more neighbor. But now, as we eat the cookies, we look across the room to the overflowing garbage can that our spouse or fellow friar promised to empty earlier that morning. This is not endearing. In fact, it might be enraging!
Of course, fellow friars and spouses, like the next-door neighbor with the fresh-baked cookies, also have their winsome qualities. They, too, can be endearing, if we take the time to notice it. (In this regard, it helps to remember that we may not be the easiest people to live with, either.) But, even so, endearment only goes so far, and, when we live with someone on a daily basis, it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Perhaps, among the apostles, St. Peter’s gruffness was endearing, or St. John’s youthful enthusiasm. Yet, endearment did not get them through the arrest, torture, and death of Jesus, their teacher, brother, friend, savior, Lord, and God. Christ’s self-sacrificing love did. Hard, scary, and unpleasant as it was, self-sacrificing love is what got them through over the long haul. Self-sacrificing love, not endearment, is what led to their salvation.
And yet, endearment is very often part of the story. If we didn’t try “to inspire affection or warm sympathy” in each other, and if we didn’t try to be inspired with affection and warm sympathy for one another, it would be harder to go further and deeper in our love of neighbor. We can, however, rely on Christ’s self-sacrificing love to give us the grace to love our neighbor always, regardless of appeal or not—even beyond endearment.
Image: Trash Can Jenga