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Thinking Anew – The challenge of loving your neighbour

The Coliseum of Rome provided a pre-television society with a place to degrade and destroy publicly the lives of other people for entertainment

The Coliseum of Rome is a monument to what is worst about being human. It provided a pre-television society with a place to degrade and destroy publicly the lives of other people for entertainment. The size of the building is testament to its popularity back then.

Not much has changed since. Love your neighbour as yourself indeed!

Christianity has always struggled with Jesus’ simple maxim “Love your neighbour.” It is simple because all of us are capable of loving. Being capable does not mean we are good at it or, more accurately, not always keen to do it.

The fact that most of have (or are) an obnoxious neighbour means that the love race usually collapses at the first hurdle.

Many people living near us are unlovable so the command of the Messiah gets downgraded a pious aspiration.

It was all very well for Jesus to tell us to love our neighbours but he didn’t live near the O’Briens. Once we mention the O’Briens we can include the Murphys, Kellys and Walshes and very soon the command of Christianity becomes, “Love your nice neighbours as yourself.”

Like most mottos, this fundamental slogan of Christianity is far more difficult than it appears.

Our nature is more at ease in the Coliseum than it is when loving our neighbours. We would not tolerate indignity being foisted on people we like but as Christians we are expected to extend that love and respect to everybody: our neighbours, the stranger, the widow and the orphan.

Despite the fact that society can be openly cynical about it, many people love their neighbours, good and not-so-good alike.

We live in a time when choice is seen as a great thing. It is worth remarking that the greatest choice is the choice that people make not to permit any role for hatred, prejudice and disregard in their lives.

Their silence in the banter of acceptable prejudice speaks louder than any challenge or argument.

This is a silence that embarrasses those who consider themselves to be good people. Their choice not to rant against an unpopular public figure or accept generalisations against an unpopular social grouping is a wonderful discomfort for the rest of us. Their quiet “He shouldn’t have done that,” or “She shouldn’t have said that,” brings closure for them and a lesson in living for the rest of us.

The time and energy that hatred consumes is the single greatest assurance of a life that is in no way a full one. Maintaining a dislike requires effort. It is a constant trawl for more (anecdotal) evidence that the one who did wrong once is rotten to the core, is beyond redemption. It becomes a quest that can never find peace. That can only be found when we learn how to close a bad book without imagining the sequel. That is a choice that anyone can make. It is lovely when somebody refuses to hate.

There are many things that inspire us in this world. Art, music, fame, wealth inspire us but they do it to different degrees to different people. Open-minded love inspires everybody except the decided cynic.

Impressive Romans would never have gone to the Coliseum. Like other good people since them their love for neighbour meant they would never be comfortable watching humanity being destroyed. FERGAL Mac EOINÍN