The massive earthquake in Nepal a week ago triggered shockwaves reaching far beyond that tiny country, lasting well beyond the cessation of the tremors. Within hours many governments, charities, NGOs and individuals started thinking about ways of helping the badly-stricken nation. Groups of professional rescuers from around the world have been flown into the country, financial and material aid has been delivered, and there’s still more to come. Not a bad reaction from a world sometimes accused of being cold and heartless, driven mainly by greed and with no respect for the lives of the poor. We too will have the opportunity to share in that positive response as we donate to SCIAF’s Emergency Nepal Appeal at the end of this Mass.
Today’s second reading begins with one of my favourite biblical phrases: ‘Our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.’ For years I’ve been rather suspicious of any devotional practices maintained and carried out for their own sake. For me, religious faith has always had to reach out towards others in kindness, support and – when needed – help. Any devotion missing out other human beings or practised at their expense is empty and, in fact, counterproductive. St John the Apostle understood that well, and in his first Letter he underlined that truth many times. Jesus Christ came into this world for the sake of man, and put man in the centre of God’s loving plan of redemption. We ought to follow that too.
I think the main problem regarding the love of our neighbour is actually its meaning in practical terms for everyday life. Most of us don’t come across people presenting a huge challenge to us on a regular basis. We don’t regularly face extraordinary situations demanding extraordinary reactions or decisions. Our lives are lived out mostly on some sort of autopilot in our more-or–less routine hustle and bustle. So, when we are occasionally confronted by something that presents a challenge to our orderly life, we may struggle to discern the correct way to deal with it. Sometimes we follow a ‘gut-feeling’ or act according to the emotions churning around inside us – and unfortunately quite often it turns out that our response is rather lacking.
Dare I say it’s because we don’t train ourselves in love. We are open-handedly generous and charitable towards good causes, like today’s Nepal Appeal. But in everyday life we tend to be rather self-centred. We skip those little acts of love towards people who might not be near us at the time, but who are affected by our actions (or lack of them) as a result. Even parking your car can be an act of charity, as the vast empty spaces at either end of the vehicle could be used by other drivers. Doing everyday things with other people in mind is excellent training in kindness and love. By deliberately making such a small change in your attitude towards your fellow human beings, repeated every day and in every situation, you can make it second nature to you. Then the charitable approach becomes so natural that you don’t even have to think about it – you just do it.