As I am able, I do Matins three times each week, as I have for the past 30 years. I am a morning person and do appreciate morning prayers for orienting me throughout the day and through the week. As I do Matins, I include the prescribed daily Scripture readings during the service, followed by a few minutes of silent meditation. Matins now begins at 8:30am, as a result of my illnesses and the ongoing chemo, and the fatigue that comes with them.
Some mornings I am alone for Matins, but I never feel alone there. Never feel like chastising parishioners for not showing up. I enjoy Matins because it is a blessing for me. I assume people will come if it is a blessing for them.
One morning, there were 3 parishioners present. I have always felt blessed by my parish and the good people whom God has called together.
As we sat for the silent meditation I looked around and thought how I loved each of these three for different reasons and in different ways. The young mom is cute with her matching 4 year old daughter. She seems to me always kind and friendly despite her suffering with an autoimmune illness. The one man is a good friend and intellectual equal with a very level headed attitude about everything. I enjoy talking with him. The other man suffers from mental illness and is an addict, and I feel great compassion for him and his many struggles. He wants to be normal, and yet it escapes him as he escapes reality.
I think that I really do love them each for different reasons. But then, into my head comes Christ’s words, “love one another even as I have loved you…” (John 13:34). Although I imagine that I really do love each of these my fellow parishioners, I realize I’m reacting to them, sympathizing and empathizing with them. Yet this is still not how Christ loves me. Christ is not merely empathetic and sympathetic to me. He empties Himself for my salvation. He dies for me, forgives me and restores my humanity to me. He leads me to the kingdom of heaven.
I have to transfigure what I think of as my love so that I love them as Christ loves me. The love is not based in my emotions or assessment of each of them. Rather the love is found in Christ.
I realize how far short I am of loving them as Christ loves me. My love is imperfect, and more a feeling noun than an action verb. I realize how far short I am from Christ’s teaching, and from His example. Yet, He still takes time to speak to me.
I have to call to mind how Christ loves me, so that I can know how to rightly love them. St. Paul puts it in these terms: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To love others as Christ loves me means to be crucified with Christ and to have Christ live in me. Again, St. Paul says: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:1). I still have a long way to walk before I do that. Yet I realize, these days my walks are so much shorter than they used to be.