By Father Patrick Longalong
As our city steadily relaxes restrictions on gatherings, I had an opportunity to catch up with some friends I have not seen for a while. Some jokingly complained that they spent too much time at home and that members of their family are beginning to test their patience. During another conversation, someone said, “I am just a simple person, I really don’t want a complicated relationship.” Then after a moment of silence we laughed at how unrealistic that sounds.
The second reading today reiterates the commandment that Jesus gave us to love one another because God loved us. But he went further to explain that as we continue to practice the love he taught us, this love will be brought to perfection in us. However, the type of love that Jesus expects from us is not a love that is only when it is convenient or fun. It is a type of love that requires sacrifice (agape). To love someone even when it is difficult. Sometimes even expressing this love means making hard choices for the well-being of another.
It is so much easier to talk about nice things and to comment on safe topics than to address that issue no one wants to talk about. Sometimes we learn to put up filters so we do not need to see that elephant in the living room, maybe even rationalizing it away. But we know deep down that interpersonal conflict doesn’t go away on its own. It festers and grows roots.
Jesus’ high priestly prayer in this week’s Gospel reflects his petition to the father and concern for our well-being in the midst of a conflicted world. It is good to point out the fact that our Lord explicitly mentioned that the father does not take us out of the world. It is in the middle of conflict that God does his deepest work. It is in the toughest times and the most difficult relational tensions that the light of Christ shines the brightest and molds us more into His likeness.
A patient at Queens Hospital once told me during my visit that “everything is an opportunity of Grace. Sometimes it is happy, sometimes sad. I might be healthy today and not feel well tomorrow. But it is all an opportunity to practice what Jesus taught us. Especially when it is the most difficult.”
There are great moments in the history of God’s people when we see them not run away from conflict in fear but engage it in hope that God will bring healing and truth in messy situations. We see these stories in the experiences of the old testament prophets and in the lives of the saints.
In the past couple of weeks, we also heard at weekday Mass readings how the apostles dealt with the tension emerging between Hebrews and Greeks. They addressed the situation immediately before it festered and took root. The conversations were not easy and maybe even brutal but because they engaged it with the desire to stay united in love, they were able to bring peace.
Going back to my friend’s statement of not wanting a “complicated relationship” is open for interpretation. However, he meant in this instant that he does not want any relational conflict. This is the reason why we laughed because we both know that it is inevitable and a normal cycle to have highs and lows in a relationship. It is a part of growing in love with the person. This is an important lesson that Jesus wants us to learn this Sunday before Pentecost; before he commissions us once again to go out into the world proclaiming the Gospel with our life.
As Christians, we do not ignore nor avoid conflict. It is an opportunity for God’s grace to be victorious.
Readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26
1 Jn 4:11-16
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino Immigrants.