“God alone holds the secret of a charity by which we can love others not only as we love ourselves, but as God loves them. The beginning of this love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves… If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Can this be charity?”
We are officially entering the “getting to know you season” in earnest. September is a month when children and educators are getting back into the classroom, when vacation season winds down and “activities” wind up. It is both an exciting and daunting time; meeting new people is funny that way. Of course, there will also be plenty of friendships renewed after a summer away, picking up right where they left off. But the challenge of being surrounded by new people is part of what makes the “back to school” season so significant for many.
Of course, this is also the “back to church” season as well (or so I’ve been told). I’ve long been familiar with the tendency of church attendance to dwindle a bit in the summer months; when I moved to Massachusetts, however, I learned that summers away is sacrosanct for many churchgoers! I even heard of some churches that close their doors for a few weeks in July and August, just to make sure the time-honored tradition of summer vacationing doesn’t hurt the churches’ bottom line.
Here at Union, we’ve enjoyed a summer that was highlighted with two new beginnings: a new pastor (that’s me!) and a new baptism. Our chapel has been more and less full on Sunday mornings, but not matter how many are gathered, smiles, laughter, songs, and prayers have been plentiful. As Christ said, it only takes two or three gathered to “have church.” By coming together to tend these blessed ties of compassion and faith each week, we are ensuring that whoever comes through our doors in the coming weeks, they will know that God is among us. As the words of the ancient Gregorian Chant remind us: Ubi Caritas et amor, Deus ibi est—“where charity and love prevail, God is there.”
Even with the relative calm around Union these last few weeks, there has been a steady simmer of activity bubbling just beneath the surface. That quiet energy is the charity and love of this congregation in action, supporting one another week in and week out, preparing with anticipation the arrival of a new season in the life of the church. Agendas have been set, worship services have been planned, Sunday school teachers have been recruited, and preparations for the Apple Harvest fair are all well underway. Even as we look forward to meeting and greeting, we know that all that we do rests upon the grace of God, which is already a well-tended trust here at Union.
So let us enter this “getting to know you season” heeding the advice of Thomas Merton not to seek to see ourselves in others, but to appreciate and care for them as we find them: unique, beloved creations of God. For me, the next few weeks will involve seeing 147 new faces in classrooms at UMass Lowell and trying to put names to them as quickly as possible. It will also involve seeing new faces in the pews on Sunday mornings, as well as a whole host of our neighbors and community members at the Apple Harvest Fair. I look forward to all these chances, as I hope you do, to live out the commandment of Christ to love our neighbors. For where there is love and charity, there shines the light of God in the world.