These are powerful words, full of heavy theological and social meaning. They express the height of the Gospel message.
ʺIf anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us the command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.ʺ
These are powerful words, full of heavy theological and social meaning. They express the height of the Gospel message. They challenge us to deep reflection on the meaning of love, on the action and the efficacy of love. They tell us about the central commandment of our faith, the command to love as God loved us. (John 13:34-35) Sometimes, though, we need to bring the abstract into the real. These are beautiful words, but how do I make them practical, a part of my every day life? Here is a simple idea; a simple way to make these words come alive in our daily lives: manners.
Manners speak about our sense that others deserve our honor and respect. They deserve this simply because they are, like me, human. If something is truly good for me, it is also truly good for others. Manners are the simple means through which we practice honoring another human being and by which we recognize his or her right to be treated as we desire to be treated. (Luke 6:31)
Love is experienced in these simple gestures of respect. It is love in action. Love is not a limited reality, assigned only to those whom we know and love, our families and our friends. It is an unlimited capacity to see the face of Jesus in the other. As Jesus told us, ʺWhen you do this for one of the least brothers of mine, you did it for me.ʺ (Mt. 25:40) Love’s reality is infinite. It is only the ever-shrinking horizon of the selfish ego that places limits on it. Love lived out in the seemingly small ways of common manners are the source of our daily happiness. Indeed, such ʺlove in small actionsʺ is the source of our daily joys. The ever-shrinking ego is the source of only competition, comparison, jealousy, rage, greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, and pride. There is none of the love that Jesus commands of us in these things.
The truth is that in the regular practice of small things, like manners, we prepare ourselves for the practice of the great virtues. ʺWhoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.ʺ (Luke 16:10)
Brothers and sisters, let us love one another in the small things so that when we are required to love one another in the great things, we will be able to do so beautifully, because we will have made loving the other a habit, a living virtue, in our lives. Manners are not just social conventions. They are the small ways through which we can practice the sacrament of love every day.