Love or Attention?

A few days ago, my wife and I were watching Lady Bird. This film is a 2017 coming-of-age film set in a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California. It’s a good film, if a bit painfully awkward for those of us who were in high school in 2002, and it’s also rated “R” so it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but there is one scene that really got my attention.

The film is set in 2002 where there are still nuns teaching at this Catholic high school. One of the older nuns, Sister Sarah Joan, played by Lois Smith, calls Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) into her office to talk about her college entrance essay. Here is the dialogue which follows:

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I do?
Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I was just describing it.
Sister Sarah Joan: Well, it comes across as love.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: Sure, I guess I pay attention.
Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?

My mind started spinning when I heard these lines. “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Certainly this is not true in every case. There are negative types of attention, but I think on the whole the point stands.

When we attend to one another, when we attend to God, and when God attends to us, is that not love? When Jesus stops what he is doing to open the eyes of a blind man, or when he goes to the synagogue leader’s house to raise the child to life, or when he sees the women following him on the way to the cross and speaks to them, he is paying attention to them; he is loving them. Jesus says ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.’ (John 5:19).

Paying attention is the first step of a spiritual life and a Christian life because love is the first step. When we pay attention in our daily life, we see that the other is like ourselves and deserves every grace we would want accorded to ourselves. We see the complexity of the other’s interior spiritual and emotional life. We can begin to see the desire for love and attention in actions that grate our nerves. When we pay attention, we begin to empty the self, and become more like Jesus.

As we begin a new liturgical year on Sunday, how will we pay attention? How will our eyes be open to the world around us? Will we pay attention to God in daily prayer? To the other through grace and loving service? To ourselves in quiet and reflection? How will we love in this new year?

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