Camping, loving, and trick-or-treating
Gospel Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 22: 34-40
For almost two decades, my best friends and I have traveled to Brown County State Park for a weekend of camping, trick-or-treating with kiddos, and enjoying the Fall scenery. It's fun to see how we've grown through the years in pictures and memories. We used to pile in tents together and now our families have grown and expanded. We spend the weekend walking between campsites, running into familiar faces, and savoring time together.
This year, I felt more aware of each hug and each interaction as one of us was in the ICU and could not make it to this annually anticipated trip. Earlier in the week Emily was driving down to the campground and recognized she was bleeding. Only three weeks postpartum, this was especially worrisome after she had already received multiple blood transfusions after giving birth. When she pulled into the ER parking lot, her toddler asked, "Are we in Brown County?". Sadly, the answer was no. Emily's sister picked up her toddler and her newborn so that Emily could be treated at the hospital. Apparently, she needed to have surgery to help with the blood loss and was told that it would be quick, simple, and allow her to still go camping.
We did not hear from her for hours and the silence was scary. It is unclear exactly how many units of blood she received, but it was between 12 and 19. When she was expecting to go camping on Tuesday afternoon, she woke up Wednesday morning on a ventilator in an unfamiliar room in the hospital. We learned that "rapid response" was called and a chaplain sat with her husband as he could just sit, wait, and pray.
Life is short and this is the first time I've had to imagine life without one of my best friends. My heart was heavy and my mind distracted, so I turned to prayer warriors across the world to ask for God's will to be known. Getting to hug friends and Emily's family at the campground as we anxiously awaited updates from the ICU was a comforting reminder that we need one another in this life.
As I read the Gospel this week, I visualized what life is like at the campground. In our modern world, we are attracted to camping for many reasons. It distances us from screens and the artificial things that steal our time and brings us closer to nature such as a gathering around a campfire to spend quality time. Camping distances us from the walls and fences that divide us in our neighborhoods and brings us closer to one another sharing common ground.
Whether a fellow camper teaches you her trick to use both blowdryers to dry your hair in the bathhouse or wishes you good morning on your walk to find coffee, we acknowledge one another and we treat one another with kindness. Without walls, we hear babies cry in the middle of the night and dogs barking early in the morning. Without fences, boundaries are more blurred, and casual conversation is welcome. A friend turned to me this weekend and said, "I love letting my daughters run between campsites and knowing they will be okay." There's a beautiful sense of trust and camaraderie that can be found camping. There aren't any locks on tents. There aren't any fences around belongings. You just trust the goodness in people and don't assume the worse.
During this annual trip, campers trick-or-treat between decorated sites covered in spooky decor and fun lighting. This tradition brings even more interactions across the campground as we exchange candy, laughs, and affirmations. Jesus says this week to "Love your neighbor as yourself." Often, we can get overwhelmed thinking about saving the world and loving those who are far away. Though loving all people is great, it's important to highlight that Jesus said, "Love your neighbor." We have to walk before we can run and boy is it a good invitation to simply love the family at the campsite next to yours. If you're camping, that's who you're asked to love at that moment.
Who are your neighbors where you live?
Who are your neighbors where you work?
How is God asking you to love them?
There's also a little word that is commonly missed in this command, "love your neighbor as yourself." This means that you must love yourself well in order to love others well. Loving yourself means to believe you have value and dignity. It means that you take care of your external environment and your outer body in ways that it can affect your inner self. You matter and loving yourself means that you believe that.
As I was afraid to lose my friend Emily to this medical emergency, I reflected on how much I love and appreciate her. She has been one of my best friends for almost two decades and I never imagined a life without her. As I rode an emotional roller coaster this week, I was invited to truly anchor down in the Lord's goodness and examine how much I love and trust Him no matter what life brings.
Before loving anyone or anything else, we are commanded to love the Lord our God! After watching The Chosen, this scene comes to mind when talking about loving the Lord with our whole heart, soul, and mind. This sounds like a simple command at times, because we think we know what love is. Then, we recognize the attachments in this world that keep us from giving God our all. Even when it comes to a near-death experience of my best friend, I need to discern where my feelings and thoughts are and where my faith rests. If I truly love and trust Our Lord with my full heart, I do not have to feel afraid. Rather, I can love with a heart anchored in hope. If I truly love and trust Our Lord with my full mind, I do not have to worry and be paralyzed with anxious thoughts. Rather, I can think about God's thoughts are higher than my own and rest in a peace that surpasses all understanding. If I truly love and trust Our Lord with my full soul, I do not have to be restless in death and sickness. Rather, I can believe in miracles and embrace the Paschal Mystery in my daily life.
I am incredibly grateful that Emily was finally discharged from the ICU last weekend and is recovering at home with her husband and kiddos. I am grateful that I get to give her a big hug this weekend. Suffering is guaranteed in this life and it helps us to see the bigger picture. It helps us to dig deeper into learning about God's love for us, even when it doesn't make sense.
In these crazy COVID times we are living in, there is an overwhelming fear of our mortality. We want to do everything that keeps us from dying. In that fear, we love the gift of our life more than the One who gave us life. There is a reason the command to love our neighbor comes after our command to love God. If we truly love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, our love for self and others will be a fruit rather than a hindrance.
Loving God well helps me to love myself well which helps me to love my neighbor well.
When God wins over our hearts, He has everything. And, He gives everything and doesn't hold anything back. Often, we hesitate to love Him wholeheartedly because we want to control and we do not want to suffer. Love cannot be controlled and it cannot exist without suffering. So we are called to surrender and receive all that God has to give us to draw us closer to Him.
So, as we prepare for Halloween this week, we will hear a lot about Trick-or-Treating.
Trick means "to deceive." Treat means "to serve."
As we encounter our neighbors in our homes, workplaces, schools, or neighborhoods, will we deceive them or will we serve them? After all, the next day is All Saints Day when we remember all those who have gone before us teaching us how to put the Greatest Commandment into practice.
Let's love like saints!