Today’s reflection is my homily given to the Associates, men in our Pre-Seminary Formation Program in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the “Golden Rule”, but it was popular in decades past and even in some places now, and while there is nothing inherently harmful in the notion of the Golden Rule; its popularity surrounds a desire to demonstrate for us how much alike many religions really are and I’ve heard it said “how we are all rivers flowing into the same ocean”.
My reflection this morning is not to bash the Golden Rule, a somewhat flawed but well-meaning theology. If you know the Golden Rule, you might know it from school – many Catholic Schools display it prominently and it makes sense to me to have the Golden Rule there; where many of the students are not Catholic and even many of the Catholic students have a very limited understanding of their faith that it gives them, at least, a sense of why we should love and embrace others. The Golden Rule offers us a series of altruistic maxims which for us as committed Catholics should not be the limit for us in our Catholic Christian faith.
What I mean is that we must allow ourselves to delve more deeply into what Jesus offers us; the profound mystery that comes from God’s Son, which we as Christians have. That may mean little to others, but it is by faith everything for us. The maxim closely associated with today’s Gospel is “love each another as you love yourself”.
It may seem fine for us as Catholic Christians to seek to live in this way but this provides us with only a superficial understanding and desire to live as Jesus calls us to. Often this comes from a sense that I can only love as is humanly possible, and to love beyond that is for God or Divine, which is hoped for but not likely to be achieved in this life – wrong. Jesus tells us so.
In John’s Gospel (13:34), Jesus says “love one another, as I have loved you”. He calls us to love our enemies, pray for those who do us harm. Brothers, this is a totally different kind of love that we are called to as Catholic Christians, as Catholic Christian men. Of course all Christians are called to live in this way as our Lord commands it, but this is the kind of love that must be a total gift of ourselves for Christ and for all. Not just some, or our people, but for all.
It is this total gift of love, this agape love which is what urges us on and gives us the strength, courage and the gift of the Holy Priesthood and the gift of Celibacy to live out the Holy Priesthood. It may be that you haven’t thought or reflected upon this Gospel in this way before, but I’d like you to ponder it now. Even if we haven’t figured out at this moment whether God has given you the gift of the priestly vocation, or the gift of the celibate vocation to live a life of total love (giving and receiving love in a complete way) so that you may be joyful as a priest and completely engaged with others in the world; even if we haven’t figured this out, my hope brothers, is that you look at the priests you know and others you’ve met throughout your lives, the joys we share with you, you’re able to see these gifts can be lived out positively, joyfully, with complete love and the complete engagement of who we are & who we are meant to be. And while we are, all of us, incomplete and sometimes weak instruments of the Lord – what should occur to you is that we are men who are trying to respond & grow in the awareness and response to these gifts day by day.
Today’s Gospel deepens our sense of the kind of love Jesus calls us all to as Christians, but the kind of love that is absolutely necessary and essential for the priesthood. A sacrificial and complete love; a love that is not about counting the cost to ourselves of what we do, a love that is complete in both giving and receiving but in which we trust the Lord on the receiving part and focus on the giving. I tie this to the priesthood, and I might say most especially the Diocesan Priesthood, because we are perhaps the priesthood most closely connected to the world. Although we must go beyond naming the individuals or groups we don’t like, and calling them enemies. We are in the midst of rampant secularism, individualism, liberalism and so many other things that attack humanity. These things are our enemies and yet we need to be beacons of love and kindness in the midst of all that. We need to be joyful in the midst of all of that.
We live in a world that is becoming more hostile, more aggressive, more self-serving, and selfish and we need to love with greater intensity in the midst of all of that.
This is not just being good people in good ways; this is profoundly living the Gospel, surrendering ourselves to it in fact in the midst of the chaos of everything else going on all around us. Being real and not living with our heads in the clouds.
Not attacking others or criticizing everyone but embracing as Christ embraced. This is the Christian life and it is most definitely the agape, or deepest form of love we are called to and which is expected of our priests in the world today. Loving our enemies does not mean accepting hateful behaviour, it means having the strength of conviction and faith to love past hateful behaviour or actions. Praying for those who persecute us, doesn’t mean praying for their demise or diminishment; it means praying for them with love and in humility praying for a deeper sense of love for them, maybe conversion but most certainly for God’s Presence in their heart. Surely many early Christians prayed for Saul of Tarsaus which led to St. Paul’s own encounter with the Lord Jesus Himself and his total conversion.
Brothers, today’s Gospel is Jesus’ call for each one of us to go deeper: for us priests to go deeper in the living out of our own vocation, in your reflection upon the vocation you feel in your heart the Lord calling you to. Our vocation must be lived out with the kind of love ascribed for us in the Gospel today, nothing less. If all we are living by is what amounts to the Golden Rule – we must move beyond! We must surrender to the Lord and seek to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect and realize with absolutely joy-filled hearts that we must continue in this Christian journey towards perfection and stop at nothing short or nothing less. May God bless you.