Loving the Unlovable

for January 11th, 2014

Liturgical texts here



MOST of the time, when we witness for Christ, we are going to be confronted with having to love the unlovable. By this I mean that we all have our “moments,” occasions when we are not very lovable at all. That is the world in which our Lord entered and the one into which Jesus now sends us.

In today’s first reading, St. John tells us how to respond when we see a brother commit a sin, that “if the sin is not deadly“…

…he should pray to God and he will give him life.

To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelization. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 101

It is not the duty of Christians to become judge and jury over every fault and misstep of our neighbour. Rather, says St. Paul, “bear one another’s burdens.” [1]Gal 6:2 The primary burden we need to bear is our brother’s weakness.

I see now that true charity consists in bearing with the faults of those about us, never being surprised at their weaknesses, but edified at the least sign of virtue. —St. Thérèse de Liseux, The Autobiography of a Saint, Ch. 9; cited in The Navarre Bible, “Gospels & Acts”, p.79

How can I not be surprised when I see my brother or sister being so beligerent and self-centered? The antidote is constantly remembering my own faults and propensity to fail to love God and neighbour on a daily basis. There is always a log in my own eye. But I also need to remember how merciful Jesus has been to me so I can reflect His mercy toward others.

Bearing another’s burdens is not the same, though, as simply enduring them. Today’s Psalm response says,

The Lord takes delight in his people.

God loves beyond the surface because He sees the goodness, the image in which we are made. In order to love the unlovable, we have to go beyond being offended, beyond the wounds of individuals, and love them how God loves them. It is learning the ‘“art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.”‘ [2]Evangelii Gaudium, n. 169 When we begin to see others as “holy ground,” we are much less ready to judge. In fact, we will begin to delight in them.

Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 268

Often I will try to imagine a person when they were a baby, how they were innocent, harmless, and precious. That is really the “core” that God sees and that Jesus died to restore. Everything after that is fallen nature.

When you see a bird with a broken wing hopping about on the ground, you never think to yourself, “Why is that bird trying to be a squirrel?” Instead, you see that it is wounded and acting “out of” its wounds. So too, people are often products of their woundedness, wanting to fly “on eagle’s wings,” but broken by their past, their sins, failures and injuries from others. That’s why Jesus says do not judge, but be merciful. We need to accompany them, helping them to heal, grow, and fly again by looking to their spiritual potential and delighting in “the least sign of virtue.”

Jesus shows us how to love the unlovable when He lets doubting Thomas touch His wounds. We have to not only touch other’s wounds, but let them touch ours. Let others see your weakness; let them know you struggle too; let them put their fingers into your side, that place where Jesus has healed your soul. I remember a holy friend of mine telling me once that he doesn’t eat dessert. “Why?”, I asked. “Because once I start eating a piece of pie, I need to eat the whole thing!” I was amazed at his honesty. While some Christians want to impress by polishing their halos in front of others, what really opens souls to the Lord is when they see transparency and touch authentic humility.

John the Baptist says in the Gospel:

He must increase, I must decrease.

Whenever we decrease, opening our wounds to others, letting them see not only how Christ has healed us but how He is still healing us, they are able to touch hope within us. This in turn opens their wounded hearts so we can apply the healing balm of Christ’s merciful love through a word, Scripture, etc. Obviously, this implies that we are willing to listen to, empathize and journey with souls.

An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 24

Often, the unlovable feel so because of loneliness—forgotten, ignored, neglected in a fast-paced, impersonal world. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, longing for the One who gave her purpose, meaning and love. When she saw Jesus, He called her by name. It was at that moment, she recognized Him. We have to stop treating people as another anonymous passerby. We need to acknowledge everyone who comes into our presence with our smile and availability, with holy hospitality.

We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 171

Catherine Doherty once said we can “listen a soul into existence.” And souls have a name, inscribed on the palm of God’s hand. When we listen to another, when we decrease our voice, they can increasingly hear the voice of the Father calling them by name saying, “You are loved.”

Every soul is different, every situation requires new discernment and sensitivity. Sometimes souls need “tough love,” like the Pharisees. But most often, people simply need merciful love. If we are to love the unlovable, we must take the time to be present to them, letting them inhale the fragrance of Christ that comes from our own relationship with Jesus, in which He has borne our burdens, touched our wounds, and listened our souls into existence.

Above all, remember that it is all grace. We only love with the love with which we’ve been freely given. And it is the Holy Spirit who convicts, the Holy Spirit alone who can open another’s heart and bring them to conversion. Yet, we are God’s chosen vessel for His grace, and the victory that conquers the unlovable is our faith…

And we leave the results to God.




 This brings to an end the first month of The Now Word. Your feedback welcome!


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1 Gal 6:2
2 Evangelii Gaudium, n. 169