One of the accusations most often leveled against Catholics is that we are “intolerant”. The world calls us intolerant because we don’t accept everything people do without question or protest. It’s a somewhat bitter irony that if you want to see real intolerance, just dare to oppose the world on one of its favorite issues of the day!
Sometimes, even when accusations are fundamentally wrong they still contain a kernel of truth. In this case, it’s true that God did not create the Church merely so that we might be tolerant of other people. Tolerance has a place in this world, but God did not create the Church—He does not call us—to be merely tolerant of other people; He calls us to love them.
Have you ever had a person in your life whom you merely tolerated? Maybe a family member or friend you forgave for something he did to you but never really got beyond just putting-up with him? That’s what tolerance is, just putting-up with people—not a bad thing, but not a very good one either.
God calls us to love because that’s what God does: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). In the Second Reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, St. John tells us, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.” In the Gospel appointed for the same Sunday, Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”
God has not ever, for one millisecond, just “put-up” with us. His love is the very reason we exist in the first place. God’s love is what gives us our identity, our dignity, and our destiny. There is nothing good we have that is not somehow the result of God’s love for us.
At the same time, while God’s love is constant and unconditional, His love calls us to be better than we are today. There is a saying that “God loves us right where we’re at, and He loves us too much to leave us there.” Love and truth always go together. Love never lies. In that sense, love can be kind of annoying, a bother, as any teenager would gladly tell you at one point or another regarding his parents. God will not “just leave us alone”, and He won’t lie to us about our sins, about our need for repentance and conversion, about our total dependence upon Him for everything.
The world will lie to us. The world makes life all about you, telling you that you can do anything you set your mind to, that you should feel free to do anything your heart desires, that every difference is just about “diversity,” regardless of how these differences match-up with God’s will, with His plan for us.
This is where we get into trouble with the world. People accuse us of “hate” because we won’t lie about God’s love, about the love to which He calls us. We won’t lie and pretend that God’s plan means nothing in this world. We won’t lie and cast His teaching aside, ignoring its proper role in directing our lives, from the way we treat the unborn, to the way we recognize and honor marriage, to the way we treat the poor, the sick, and the elderly. Life is not only about us; it’s about God and His plan for the Church and for all of humanity.
Throughout Scripture, the Lord reveals that His love is for every person, and that He does not unjustly discriminate against anyone when it comes to joining His Church and becoming united with Jesus Christ. One of the most beautiful elements of our Catholic faith is to see it expressed in every place and culture around the world. The Gospel truly finds a home wherever there are people who will listen to God’s word and believe in Him.
God loves us all, He desires every person to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), and He sends us to share the Gospel with every person (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15). He calls, but we also need to answer His call, both when we first accept the faith and then throughout our lives. Remember, Jesus says:
- “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (Jn 14:21);
- “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love” (Jn 15:10);
- “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14).
Jesus loves us more than we could possibly imagine, but the way we live our lives matters to Him. We need to say “yes” to Him with our thoughts, words, and actions, even when it is most difficult. And this is how we are to love each other—steadfastly, unconditionally, totally, but not with a false love that would have us just shrugging our shoulders at sin. Precisely because we love, we want what is best for other people. We want them to know and love Jesus. We want them to live good lives, to be saved, to go to heaven!
Of course, we can’t show this kind of challenging love by being nags, or bossy, or by asserting our own opinions as if they were Gospel-truth. That’s not love. And we don’t love by feeling, let alone acting, as if we’re better than other people. The first thing I know about sin is that I am a sinner!
The great Apostle to Ireland, St. Patrick, begins his spiritual autobiography, the Confessio, with the words, “I am Patrick, a sinner, the most rustic of men.” In my own life, I have learned a lot about sin through teaching, reading, and observation, but I first learned about sin by experience! And it is in knowing the depths of my own sinfulness that I come to appreciate the mind-boggling magnitude of God’s love for me, and then become ready to share that love with others.
The love of God becomes present to us in the most powerful way we can experience here on Earth in the Holy Eucharist. Whenever the Body and Blood of Jesus is offered in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we also offer God our own lives. This self-offering includes our commitment to loving people as Christ loves them, even at the cost of our bodies and our blood. In this way, the world will see in us not just tolerance, but the burning love of Jesus Christ, a love that will not rest until all of those God calls are united with Him, worshipping at one altar and sharing in one heavenly destiny.
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