I grew up Catholic, was Christened in the Catholic Church, made my first Holy Communion and Confirmation in the same Church I was married in. I went to Catholic Mass every Sunday for most of my life even through college when so many think they know better or become “enlightened” and leave the faith.
My Catholic faith was in place, but how strong was it really? Had I really thought about what the Profession of Faith really means or how much was put into determining exactly what words represent our faith, what words would stand the test of time? Had I really thought of how I lived what I professed once I left the Church walls? Had I thought of how I approached the Eucharist, smiling at babies or giving small waves to friends I passed in the pews before thrusting my hands out for the Bread of Life in a “Gimme” fashion? Had I thought about what the words contained between the covers of the big family Bible I wasn’t allowed to touch mean? Had I thought about how the starting point for how I saw the world determined how I’d see the world?
Had I thought about the mercy as well as the justice the Father promises? Had I thought about what sending His only Son from paradise to become man and suffer for me means? Had I thought about one day approaching that throne or about the giant screen I imagined would show my words, my actions, my thoughts, the hidden parts of myself I thought I could keep secret from the world to all souls in Heaven? Had I thought about the times I cried out to Jesus in Confession and Reconciliation and how those sins I hoped no one would see would be blotted out by His dripping Blood or made invisible by His radiant purity shining so brightly it erased my wrongdoings and left those who might have scorned me on earth dazzled by His Goodness? Had I thought of how truly weak I am and how the Holy Spirit is always there when I call?
So many questions.
So few answers.
One answer that covered all:
When my world fell apart, and life as I knew it, with no exaggeration, came to an end, I forced myself to ask those questions. What did my faith mean to me and what was I going to do about it?
My “good enough” faith was by no means “good enough.” I worked really hard to understand that. Faith cannot be a superficial duty one fulfills on Sundays. It cannot be a Scriptural quote thrown up on Facebook or something you’ll get to eventually.
Jesus gave us two commandments that summarized all the Old Testament teachings, all the Commandments given Moses.
Love your God above all things.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Simple. And yet so hard.
Love God above all.
How could I love God if I didn’t really know God? How could I live my faith, or understand another’s faith, if I didn’t really know my faith? How could I know that faith without study? Being raised in the Church, I realized, may have provided a foundation, but often the converts I knew were the ones who were hungry to learn while the cradle Catholics were content to pat themselves on the back for sitting once a week on hard pews in ostentatious buildings and kneeling without understanding what they were kneeling for.
Or maybe that’s just what I was doing. Maybe this was another moment I’d need Jesus’ blinding light to cover my secret thoughts. Maybe I needed to explore deeper. Who was God anyway?
I write in flowery prose, perhaps to make up for the insecurities I still feel about myself. Perhaps so you look to my words rather than to me. I could write volumes about what I’ve discovered about God and still not describe all He is adequately, and yet,
all the evidence points to God being very simple.
God is Love.
From that starting point, all I had to do was define love and figure out how to put it to action in my life. Great! (sarcasm)
Society defines love through physical, often sexual, touch, but we are called to love deeper. We are called to love through honoring our parents, whether they deserve it or not. Wives are called to love by submitting to husbands. Husbands are called to love wives as Christ loves the Church by giving fully of themselves. We are called to love our loved ones, but also to love strangers as the Good Samaritan taught us. We are called to love those who cannot return our love with earthly rewards as we see Jesus do for the paralytic man and others. We are called to love those scorned as Jesus does for the woman at the well. We are called to love those who seem unlovable as Jesus does for the tax collectors. We are called to love our enemies.
We are called to do all this and protect ourselves too.
We are called to love ourselves as creations of God.
As I opened my heart to Truth, I discovered the love I’d given was a fraction of what I was called to do. We are told to guard our hearts and yet at the same time to open them to love far more than my little circle of love had allowed.
When my world fell apart and I questioned why I should ever love again, I began to realize that I was called to love, not fewer people, but more, not more protectively but more openly, not self-defensively but more acceptingly.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love is undefinable because true love is limitless. It’s standing at the base of a mountain whose peak is surrounded by fog. It’s knowing you could climb forever and never get enough but that you still have to try. It’s knowing that we are all neighbors from the so called greatest to the so called least among us. It’s knowing that love is an action, not a word tossed about carelessly, but an action that puts the others’ need above your own through time.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is selfless. Words without love are a resounding gong, a crashing cymbal. My words have no meaning. There is no one perfectly right way to love or one wrong way to love.
There is only a way to not love
and that is to put yourself first.
Love the Lord your God above all things.
This means stop trying to control the world; simply quiet yourself and trust.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
This means respecting all God’s children. It means not forcing your beliefs on them. It means being patient. It means putting them first. It means sacrifice. It means reaching out when you want to pull back and pulling back when you want to reach out. It means being humble and selfless.
I thought I’d learned enough about love to go out into the world and love all God’s people, but recent events and my often loveless actions show how little I know and how much I need to learn. I so want the world to understand the love and hope and joy and light and goodness I’ve found in this seemingly dark world that I still rely on my own ability to bring that goodness to others rather than God’s ability to use me over time to show it.
Even knowing better, I fail to do better.
I have failed at love. I have failed to love.
Two simple commandments, and I still put myself first time and time again. I hurt myself and others and want to curl up and hide away from the world, but instead I am called to love, even when it’s hard, even when love seems impossible, even when I need to love my enemy, even when my enemy is myself.
I have made mistakes. Mistakes may be sugar-coating things. I have sinned. I have sinned in body, mind, and soul, but my greatest sin is that I failed to love completely.
I say I know better, but I stray from the Shepherd far too often. We often think of Sunday’s Gospel as calling to those far from the Lord, but maybe it calls most to those of us who arrogantly believe we are close to Him. Maybe it calls most to me.
I am the Lost Sheep. I am the Gold Coin. I am the Prodigal Son. I am a nobody and yet a somebody. Because of God’s Grace, I am lost but can be found. I am saddened but know there will be rejoicing in Heaven when the “worst” sinners seek to be found. I know the Lost Sheep is both those who think they have never been closer to God and those who think they could never be farther.
And I know today, that is me. I am no Angel although I so wanted to be. I am weak, a sinner who fails to love as I have been called to do.
But that’s just the beginning of the story. There is no time to lick wounds and hide away. Today, I am called, first and foremost, to go into the world and to love. Sometimes that means reaching out and sometimes that means pulling back and letting God do His work without me.
I’ve fooled myself into thinking I was good enough to offer love, but love cannot come from my power alone. Knowing that, what excuse will I use to not love today?
I have none.
I must go into the world and humble myself through lessons learned the hard way. I must promise to love better, more patiently, more kindly, more givingly, less selfishly.
Lessons learned and humility gained pull me forward. I have not yet found that spirit of strength or courage I know awaits, but I have found I have no good excuse not to apply lessons learned of loving more humbly and guarding the heart more carefully.
I am the Lost Sheep, but that does not mean I must love better today than yesterday. On the contrary, maybe that’s exactly why I must.
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