The following is the homily I preached Sunday. For those who heard me preach, you will notice that you did not hear everything that follows. I tailor for the audience but I have shared it in its entirety.
It is impossible to miss the theme of love in our second reading and gospel today. And, to be honest, it is a controversial topic. Clergy sometimes shrink when they see that the “theme” or “topic” is love. There are just so many controversies and questions surrounding the word. Some of the more common questions of course are:
- What is love?
- It is a feeling?
- Is it a choice?
- Where does it begin and end?
- Can I fall out of love?
I think that it is so hard to nail down the meaning because of our woundedness. The fact is that we have so many difficulties answering these questions because we have what CS Lewis would call “mercenary hearts.” He said it like this in, As the Ruin Falls:
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you. I never had a selfless thought since I was born. I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through: I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek, I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin: I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek– But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
What is the mercenary heart? It is the heart that always must have its way, in its time on its terms. If we take a moment in honest reflection, we would see that all of us are mercenaries concerning our relationships, but especially with God. We so often use the people around us to get what we want and our Lord is no different.
Do you remember when you first encountered God? Maybe it was at work camp, a youth conference, a sunrise that took your breath away – or for the mothers present here today, the moment when you saw and held your first-born. Regardless of the circumstance, we encountered Him and He changed our lives. We then pursued Him because of the feeling He gave us. We were excited about prayer. We were excited to learn about our faith. All these consolations flooded in and it sustained us…for a time. And, as time progressed, the feelings faded, the consolations ended until we arrived at the point where we say, “I’m here Lord…where are you.” St. Therese for 13 years, praying multiple times a day said that very statement.
It is at this point, the saints tell us, that love begins to grow. When there is nothing left. When we feel abandoned. When we are not getting our way.
Many times though we give up and give in. We act like that two year old who throws a tantrum because they are not getting their way. But the truth is – we need all the feelings and warm fuzzes to be taken away.
Love is choosing that relationship when there is no reason to choose, when it is not convenient, when it seems like the worse decision ever. Could you imagine if our mothers, when the baby woke up at 3:00 am, said, “Oh let him/her cry! I need my sleep. I tried to feed them at 5 pm, it is their fault they chose not to eat.” We would all say that her reply is ridiculous and we would be correct.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we should realize that our mothers have provided us with a practical example of how we are called to live out our lives of prayer. It is an example that teaches us to think less of ourselves and more about those whom we serve. At this point, we begin to combat our mercenary hearts. In our spiritual life, wherever we may be in the journey, we need to be:
- Dedicated to prayer regardless of our feelings. Commit to a time and hold to it.
- Ruthlessly honest with ourselves concerning our sins.
- Generous in receiving the grace of reconciliation. We must allow the love of the Father to bathe us in His glory.
All these begin a life of virtue. Do you know what Brian’s, Perry’s, the entire youth ministry team and clergy’s greatest fear for you is? That those who have been entrusted to our care will never grow up. My Alma mater, Franciscan University, years ago struggled with the issue that when students graduated, a significant number left the Church. Their reasons were concerning their new or perhaps old parishes. They went like this:
- The music is bad.
- The homilies were too short.
- I didn’t feel loved.
- The talks were not entertaining.
- The Church didn’t look like a Church.
All these “reasons”, are tell-tale signs of incredible immaturity. If any of us here struggle with these, it means that we are still seeking the gift and not the Giver. It means we like to be entertained and not do the work of a disciple. It means we have not yet learned to love.
What is important is what happens on this altar. That the King of the universe descends and is present among us. The spiritual life is not about entertainment. Youth ministry is not about entertaining you but training you to do the work of a disciple. It is boot camp before you are sent out into battle – whether you are ready or not. All activities we do have the singular goal of equipping you for heaven and evangelization.
Mary’s life was always about bringing Jesus to everyone she met. And that is more real than we probably could imagine. in fact, science tells us that when a mother is pregnant with he child some of the cells – even stem cells – remain in her for the rest of her rlife…And the same is true for all of you mothers present tonight. You will always carry your children within you…Mary truely brought Jesus to everyone because she was a living tabrenacle of His physical presence everywhere she went. We might even say that she was like a ciborium that still contained the fragments of the host that was just in it.
JRR Tolkien sums up the work of the spiritual life when writing to his son about how to make a good Holy Communion and grow in maturity. He wrote,
“make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths… Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”
Jesus in the Gospel said, “Remain in my love” not cuddle with me. Love is a choice of sacrifice not fireworks and hugs. Our Lord’s example of love? The cross. Are you willing to persevere in love till it kills you?