November 4, 2012


You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Mark 12: 31

   There is a wonderful “New Yorker” magazine cartoon which depicts a woman scowling as she says:

“One day Arnie, my husband, pointed out to me that every word I said sounded exactly like my mother. So he sent me into analysis & I worked on it for a year. When I thought I sounded better, Arnie, my husband, pointed out to me that every word I said sounded exactly like my father. So he sent me back into analysis & I worked on it for a year. But when I thought I sounded better, Arnie (he’s my husband) pointed out that every word I said sounded like my analyst. So he had me change analysts & I worked on it for a year. Now it is over six months & every word I say sounds like my husband. He thinks I’m cured!”

   The poet E.E. Cummings once said that in a world that is doing its best day & night to make you like everybody else, trying to be nobody but yourself means to fight the hardest battle that any human being can fight – & the battle never ends. Psychiatrists tell us that refusal to be oneself is a common place problem & a major cause of inferiority complexes, feelings of insecurity, personal frustrations & even anti-social behavior. In the words of one prominent practitioner, “The greatest tragedy in life is that while we were born originals, we die carbon copies.”

   It seems that while God works to bring out our uniqueness, we work to be like everybody else. Charlie Brown is famous for his lack of self-esteem. In one “Peanuts” episode, Lucy is leaning back in her booth marked “Psychiatric Help, five cents.” She is saying

“All right Charlie Brown, let’s put it another way. Each of us has a grocery cart & the world is our supermarket. The world is filled with wonderful things. Push your cart down the aisles, Charlie Brown! Push it right up to the check-out counter!” Charlie asks, “Which one? I think I have five items or less.”

   God did not create us to be like Charlie Brown, or anyone else. But it seems that our sense of uniqueness is something acquired. It is an essential element in the process of spiritual growth, an ongoing learning experience. St. Paul put it this way, “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance & in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed & of going hungry, of living in abundance & of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phil. 4: 11-13). When Paul wrote those words, he was a prisoner. Although the entire letter is less than three printed pages, He uses the word “joy” 16 times. Paul was no Charlie Brown. Even in the worst situations, he was a joy-filled, “together sort of person.

   We cannot love our neighbor until we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. What we hate in ourselves is what we will complain about & criticize in others. But once we are able to love ourselves as God loves us, then we cannot fail to love others. God’s commandment is a seamless garment. We cannot love God unless we love others & vice versa.  AMEN!