Are Humans Naturally Good and Loving?

(September 10, 2017)

Message: Recognize you owe all to God - most important, the gift of love.

St. Paul tells us, "Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." If you are like me, when you hear that verse, you think: Heck, I've got it made: I'm a loving person; I don't hate anyone; I wish well to everyone. Sure, I've got my faults, but I am basically a good person.

On one level, your probably are. You and I have the image of God imprinted us - and we each have a value greater than everything else on this planet combined. When this world turns to dust your existence and mine will have barely begun. We have an incalculable dignity - but it's not unalloyed. We are like Mt. Rainier: Majestic, but a volcano inside that can erupt any moment.

Shakespeare depicts that inner reality. For example, he shows Julius Caesar who has conquered three continents. Caesar strides like a colossus, but at the same time is insecure, vacillating, vain, easily flattered, full of false bravado. Against Caesar are the conspirators: the idealists - like Brutus - they want to do good, to act unselfishly (or at least so they claim). They take it on themselves to assassinate Caesar, but instead of bringing freedom and peace, they bring civil war. And then there's that amazing public speaker, Mark Antony ("friends, Romans, countrymen..."). He can move people's hearts but his own heart is cynical and cruel.

Now, you and I are little people. We don't have the opportunity to do large scale evil, but let's face it, in our own spheres we do enough. At the beginning of Mass you and I admit, "I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do." Those aren't empty words. It's truth, empirically verified truth. Lots of evidence - in human history, in our homes, in your heart and mine. All of us have experienced love dissolve into hate.*

So while we each have goodness inside, it's a real stretch to say we are naturally good. We need education and training. Sometimes we need correction. In the Gospel Jesus speaks about fraternal correction: nothing any of us enjoy giving - even less receiving. But we do need it. A person who really desires to love has to open himself to correction. Let me repeat that. A person who really desires to love has to open himself to correction. Now, don't form a line after Mass to start correcting me, but you know what I mean. :)

We need correction above all from God. Some people ask why God allows disasters like the flooding in Texas and Louisiana. To answer that question you would have know the life stories of ten or twenty million people. We don't know the stories of people close to us, let alone millions in southeast Texas. We can however reflect on our own lives. I can look back on something which for me was catastrophic and have a sense, yes, God did have a purpose in allowing it.

One purpose we do know. God allows bad things in order to evoke mercy. The recent flooding brought an outpouring of compassion and generosity. That's where we have to start, especially when disasters happen to those close to us. Those upheavals won't make the news; most people suffer quietly - although they sometimes receive unexpected compassion and effective help. We call it solidarity - or Stewardship.

St. Paul gives the bottom line: "the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."** For Paul love is not a feeling; it is a decision. That love does not come naturally; it goes against our natural inclinations. Remember - love is patient, it forgives, it bears all, it endures. (cf. I Cor 13) St. Paul calls love a "charism" - a gift from God. A gift we have to ask for. Do not become discouraged at your failures. We have to ask for that gift over and over again. "Owe nothing to anyone," says Paul. But recognize you owe God everything - most important, you owe to him the gift of love. "The one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Amen.


*I know it's not your fault. You did explain that to me carefully and convincingly.

**It's interesting Paul says "another" not "everybody."

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From Archives (for Twenty-Third Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 5
2011: Dissuade the Wicked
2008: He Died in the Trenches
2005: Love and Do What You Like
2002: Why Did No One Stop Him?
1999: How to Correct Others

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