I am in love. Deeply, madly, shamelessly in love.
I recognize the symptoms because I have fallen in love before. I have loved a woman. I was married for 37 years to Cynthia and we have six children. This past weekend I could not be with you because I traveled to baptize our twelfth grandchild. I lost Cynthia a few years ago due to Cancer.
I’m not the only person here who has experienced love. Many of you know what it feels like to be deeply, hopelessly in love, and you know the joys, the demands and consequences of that love.
A few weeks prior to my recent ordination to the priesthood, I had an interview with our bishop, an interview that is required of all seminarian deacons about to be ordained. The bishop must ask us about our beliefs regarding obedience, celibacy and simplicity of life (how we will live with money and possessions). This is just as important a discussion between a bishop and those whom he is about to ordain as between fiancés before they marry. Those who are engaged to be married need to have serious, honest, intimate conversations about fidelity, chastity and with how much simplicity they will live their lives together. These are necessary topics of conversation for people who are deeply in love, and who are preparing to make their commitment permanent and public.
For me the answers to the Bishop’s questions come from my heart, naturally, much as they did when I fell in love with Cynthia. I was in love then. I am in love now. My reply to Bishop Vasquez was — that I am hopelessly in love with God and His Church. When you are in love, you place the one you love ahead of everything else in your life. You learn to love the other as you love yourself. And you become somewhat fearless in the face of obstacles.
And now, God has given me the time, the health and the opportunity to continue to live my life in love. I am here at St. John’s parish to fall in love with you.
It is not clear to me how to go about that. I know from experience that it takes time. I am learning that this is a strong parish, a good parish. But I must learn how to love you.
This is what priestly vocation and marriage are all about, learning to share God’s transforming love between us, and to allow ourselves to grow ever more committed in that love. When we share openly our deepest love for, and commitment to one another, without conditions, without reservations, without fear, we imitate Jesus and draw near to the Father in Him through the Spirit. When we live in the Spirit of God, we speak Truth to one another. Love doesn’t permit anything else.
The most important and honest question of all comes in today’s Gospel when the Jewish scholar asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The Jewish scholar who was testing Jesus and Jesus himself were in agreement with the basic teaching of God’s law of love, as taught by Moses,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells the scholar, “Do this and you will live.” This is one of the clearest promises of our salvation that Jesus gives us.
And Moses adds something we all know to be true, that we don’t need to go looking for God’s law of love. The law of God is very near to us, “already in our mouths and in our hearts; you have only to carry it out,” says Moses.
The Jewish scholar reveals the way most of us complicate our salvation when he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”. A Levite and a priest both cross the street rather than having to commit themselves to helping the injured man. In one way or another we all do that sometimes. We fail in our love when we attempt to choose with whom and when we will love.
And, when we fail in love, we know it, if we are honest with ourselves. That is when we confess our sins, ask for God’s forgiveness, and return to loving one another.
Today I am deeply thankful for this opportunity to live my life in love. I am thankful for all the fruit love has provided me. I cannot imagine life outside of this love, and outside our faith. I long to share this love with whomever I meet. That is what is happening here, today. This is how I will serve you, alongside our Pastor, Fr. Victor. I am thankful to have this opportunity to love and to serve you.
And as we are learning to fall in love with one another, we will gradually lose our fear and hesitancy to have those conversations which lovers must have as we grow in intimacy and common purpose. We will speak earnestly about how to inherit eternal life. And we will speak about fidelity and obedience to Mother Church and to one another, chastity and the way we will respect life and one another, and about the simplicity of life with which we will live our lives together, sharing our gifts for the common good. Together we will continue to learn to be “Good Samaritans” to one another. In love we will lead one another to heaven. I feel so blessed to be here with you.