The most important lesson President Obama gave to the graduating class at Notre Dame came at the beginning of his speech, after he was heckled by anti-abortion protesters. “We’re not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes,” he said. The president’s words were reinforced by the example of his presence in the midst of conflict and controversy.
In St. John’s gospel last Sunday, Jesus also reminds His followers that while the greatest commandment is love, love is not always easy or comfortable. He challenges us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
True love is not always easy or comfortable. I’ve been thinking about this with respect to two deaths that happened this week. The first is the death of my friend Gari’s little daughter, Yari. Yari was born with significant heart defects. She was a sickly child, requiring a lot of care and attention. Gari could have walked away from his daughter, leaving her mother to care for her alone. Many lesser men have done so. But Gari stepped up to the plate and was a true father to Yari until God took her home. Gari, a personal trainer by profession, brought Yari to the health club with him and she napped in her stroller while he worked with his clients. He loved his little girl deeply, even knowing her time on earth was limited.
The second is the death of Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, OMI, a priest who repeatedly put himself in harm’s way while serving the poor from Milwaukee to Recife to Guatemala, where he met his end at the hands of robbers. Again and again, Fr. Larry chose to live in uncomfortable conditions to be closer to God and His people.
It would have been easy for Gari to walk away or for Fr. Larry, who was in his 70s at the time of his death, to ask his order to reassign him to a safe and quiet post in the United States but, as the president told the Notre Dame students, a person of valor does not shy away from uncomfortable circumstances.
“Laying down one’s life” does not necessarily mean just physical death. It may be the sacrifices a parent makes for a sick child, not giving in to sexual desire in order to be faithful to a vow of celibacy, choosing to be poor with the poor instead of comfortably ensconced in a carpeted chancery office, going with a nephew to identify a brother’s body rather than letting him perform this painful task alone, or spending one’s leisure time teaching English to immigrants or visiting the elderly instead of watching TV or going to the mall.
A person of faith does not place their personal comfort ahead of following God’s call. We are all called to love, even when it is uncomfortable, by One who loved us all the way to the Cross.
Photo: Fr. Larry's coffin being transported to Guatemala City for funeral today.