So when I was sitting in church last Sunday morning and I heard that line from John's gospel, I couldn't help contrasting that simplicity with all the complexity we've built into churches today. I'm Catholic, after all, and we (collectively, anyway) like rules and have lots of them. We've had a couple thousand years to work on them. Although we have lots of rules, most of us tend to apply them selectively. We sort of filter out what we don't like and then do our best to abide by the remaining ones. Birth control, capital punishment, care for the environment and the poor, and various rubrics & traditions come to mind. Anyone who thinks Catholics unanimously adhere to some monolithic set of rules and beliefs hasn't spent much time around Catholics.
I've never been much of a fan for rules, but I do have a sincere appreciation for principles – and 'love one another' is one hell of a principle. Though I remember learning about all sorts of church rules and clear-cut positions from the Baltimore Catechism and other texts in Sunday School (thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Aunt Millie, Mrs Treiber and Mr Charles!), I actually don't remember most of that now. But from the first time I heard it, 'love one another' made a lasting impression.
I can't think of any situation in life that is made worse by loving one another.
Yet, given the simplicity of the message, countless people have violated it over and over. Even the people who are supposed to be preaching it have ignored it. The draw to love ourselves, manifested by ego, reputation, greed, 'avoiding scandal' and so on, has left scars on people and society through the centuries. I've studied history a bit, and it is amazing to see just how often we really don't learn from our past mistakes.
So some look at that and see religion and the church as full of hypocrites, and that is understandable. Who can count the times that we've preached 'love one another' and then committed all sorts of bad acts? There are some bad, evil people in this world, and some of them are in our churches. However, I think that most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can do with the emotional fortitude they have at the moment. Even at our best, we're not perfect. But, hopefully, we always try or at least are aware of how we miss the mark. In the end, it's not about perfection, but progress. We may never truly be able to love one another consistently, sincerely and with some depth; but I do believe that it matters a lot that we can look back over the past months or years and say that yes, we have loved a bit more than we did before.