In the first reading for today John reminds us that there is a time for sensitivity and there is also a time when we must plainly state a difficult truth. His message is simple and direct, "If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar"
It is difficult because there are people in this world who hate, and like many other emotions hate often has no rational basis. It is also, however, often a learned behavior. In the words from South Pacific, "You have to be taught, before it's too late, before you are six, or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You have to be carefully taught."
This year we mark the beginning of our own civil war. We like to pretend that now that we have elected a black president, we're done with that past. But ask yourself, when was the last time you went out to dinner with someone not of your own color. At best what we have is an uneasy detente, made more complicated by the edition of brown, that is Hispanic, to the palette of colors that make up our nation.
We would never want to use the word "hate", it is far too harsh for our modern sensibility. In most cases we have learned to disguise it. Call it tensions, resentment, anger, fear. It slips out in looks, comments, jokes. We hide it in discussions of national security. We can outlaw the speech, but that alone does not truly change hearts.
John cuts through all the carefully nuanced language and gives us two simple categories for our relationship to our brothers and sisters, love or hate. Do we really love one another? Perhaps we need the stark language of St. John to remind us just how much, to borrow a favorite phrase of Bishop DiLorenzo, "unfinished business" we still have a century and a half after the beginning of the civil war.