Sunday, May 19, 2019



As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you
Have love for one another.
 John 13

There was an old television commercial that I found very funny. I don’t even remember what they are advertising, but it shows a pathetic couple being married in one of those hideously tacky Las Vegas wedding chapels while two old ladies look on. The old ladies both oooh and aaah before looking at each other and saying, “They don’t have a clue!”   

When it comes to choosing between Hollywood and Jesus, most people in our culture choose Hollywood when it comes to defining “love.” No wonder!  Hollywood says that “love” is about “having strong feeling of attraction for someone” and Jesus says it is about “laying down one’s life for another.”

Hollywood love is about “feeling good.” Jesus love is about “doing good.” Hollywood love is about “getting love.” Jesus love is about “giving love.” Hollywood says that love is a kind of magic “feel good” spell that you fall into, and when you fall into it, you have no choice except to have sex or get married. When you fall out of it, the only thing you can do, of course, is to get a divorce.

George Bernard Shaw said this about people who get married simply because they have strong physical attraction for each other. “When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal and exhaustive condition continuously until death do them part.”

Dr. Scott Peck says that the experience of “falling in love” is an illusion which in no way constitutes real love. As a psychiatrist, he says that he weeps in his heart almost daily for the ghastly confusion and suffering this myth fosters. He says that millions of people waste vast amounts of energy desperately and futilely attempting to make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of this myth.

Hollywood says that “love” is “having strong feelings of attraction” and “getting your needs met.”  Jesus says that love is not a feeling, but a decision. Jesus says that love is not about “getting,” but “giving.” Jesus says basically that “love hurts,” because it is about self-sacrifice for the good of another, regardless of what one gets back. Hollywood love is “Toyota love.” Toyota’s old slogan was: “I love what you do for me.”  Jesus’s slogan is “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Since most young people get more Hollywood than Jesus pumped into them, it’s no wonder preparations for sacramental marriages in the Catholic Church is such a knock “down-drag out” collision of perspectives. Most weddings in our culture reflect Hollywood’s notion of romantic love more than they do Jesus’ notion of decisive, unconditional, self-giving love.

When I used to talk to young couples preparing for marriage, I tried to get them to take their focus off what their partners-to-be had to offer them and ask themselves if they had what it took to love that person unconditionally, off what they would get out of the marriage and onto what they had to bring to the marriage. Asking “what you have to give” is more important than “how do you feel.” Physical and emotional attraction is important, but it is not enough to sustain a marriage.

In my own case, I guess I was attracted to priesthood for many reasons, one of them being that it made me feel good and respected. If that had been the only reason, I would have been gone a long time ago!  The only important question is this!  Do I have what it takes to be an effective priest when it doesn’t make me feel good, when things don’t go well, when I don’t feel like I am making a difference, when my profession is disgraced?  A crisis like the one we are going through certainly purifies one’s motives.

When I worked at Saint Meinrad Seminary, I used to joke with those about to be ordained, saying, “The first forty years are the hardest, but then it gets better!” I used to tell them, if you want to know what kind of priest you will be, wait till the ordination honeymoon wears off, wait till those times when it isn’t fun anymore, wait till you get to the day when you are not the center of the universe anymore! If you become a priest because of what you will get out of it, you will surely be in crisis most of the time. If, however, you are a priest because of what you can give to others, the message of God’s unconditional love - teaching it and modeling it - you will never be disappointed.  

It might seem odd for some of you to hear me compare marriage and priesthood.  The new catechism of the Catholic Church does just that! Five of the seven sacraments are geared to our salvation as individuals. The other two, marriage and priesthood, are geared toward the salvation of others. We enter these two sacraments, not for our own good, but for the good of others. We become priests and we become marriage partners, not for what it can do for us, but because of what we can do for others. Both are about laying down our lives for the good of others. Both are about being love givers. Couples marry to focus their love on their partners and their children. Priests are celibate in order to be able to give their love to a community of people, rather than to one person. Either way, marriage or priesthood, it’s about being love givers, about laying down one’s life for others.

Our confusion about love comes, I believe, from a failure to understand God and how God loves. Many religious people believe that God loves us when we are good, quits loving us when we are bad and starts loving us again when we shape up.  We believe that, not because it is true, but because that is how we love others. The truth of the matter is that God loves without condition, no matter what we have done or fail to do. We are called to do the same. We are called to be love givers to everyone, even our enemies, even when we don’t feel like it and even when they don’t deserve it. Anything else is not “Christian”  love. 

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