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Hugs, handshakes, and hard work


One of my favorite parts of the Mass is when we are invited to share a sign of God’s peace. The hugs and handshakes from everyone around me offer love and encouragement, especially during difficult times.

This past Sunday, I was reminded that love sometimes isn’t as easy as a hug, or as warm as a handshake or hello.

“‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law,” St. Paul told the Romans (Ch. 13).

If we don’t wish harm or evil for ourselves, and we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we can’t wish harm or evil toward another.

Easier said than done, more often than not.

Maybe we’ve had a difference of opinion with a friend, or had a falling out with a family member. Perhaps there’s a long-standing estrangement from an old friend or sibling. Sometimes, it’s easier to wish them their just desserts than to try to fix things.

Real love, when we have differences, calls for digging deep and putting ourselves right with God and each other.

Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 18), tells us what to do. Go to our brother -- or sister -- Jesus says, and talk about whatever the issue is between us. Try to put it right. If that doesn’t work, take along witnesses to help us make amends. If that doesn’t work, take it to the church.

But we’re not to just let things lie.

If we don’t try to right the wrongs -- whether our own or another’s -- we’ll be held accountable, the Bible says.

Love, someone said, is a verb. It’s action. Sometimes, it’s hard work.

We can’t go to the altar, or have a chance of making it to heaven, if we don’t do the hard work of real love.Hugs and handshakes are great, and I don’t want to miss them, but I know sometimes I have to cross the church, or cross the street, maybe even cross the country, to make peace, to share God’s Word and His love. It may end with a hug, but the journey may be a difficult one. It may require humility, apologies, and effort.

That’s the love Christ calls us to.

We love God and want to go to heaven. If we love others as ourselves, we want them to go to heaven, too.

That sign of peace at Mass is more than a hug or a handshake. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about making amends. It’s giving each other a hand-up -- to heaven.

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