On May 10, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrated Mass for the admission to candidacy for priesthood of Andrew Kleine, Randolpho Lemus and Nathan Rueb. Following is the text of his homily.
Andrew, Randolpho, and Nathan, thanks for giving us reason to gather this morning. Thank you for your willingness to take this step of formally declaring your desire to pursue a priestly vocation.
This morning at Mass, I am using my personal chalice. At the time of ordination, somehow each new priest acquires a chalice. My chalice belonged to another St. Louis priest, who had died 5 years before my ordination. It was a much nicer chalice than I could have afforded to purchase.
On the base of the chalice, my Mother added a small golden cross that contains the diamonds from her engagement ring. It is always a good visual reminder that my vocation as a priest and bishop is the fruit of my parents’ vocation to Christian marriage.
I congratulate the parents of our three candidates for the priesthood. Most frequently, priestly vocations are the fruit of strong Catholic families, where the Faith is lived and celebrated. Thank you, dear parents, for being the first formators of these seminarians.
Love One Another as I have loved you
The words of today’s readings are some of the most important and most challenging in all of scripture. In our 2nd reading St. John tells us that love is central to the Christian life. St. John says: “…everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” St. John also warns us: “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that if we want to remain in His love then we must keep His commandments. He then tells us what His commandment is: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus tells us what is involved in loving one another and prophesies His own impending destiny when he counsels: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He tells us this because we are His friends. Jesus wants His joy to be in His friends and Jesus wants His friends’ joy to be complete.
Authentic Christian Love
Essential to following Jesus – to knowing the true joy of the Gospel – is our ability and willingness to love others as He has loved us. What does it mean to love like Jesus loves? First, we need to know what it does not mean.
Love is a very popular term in our American culture. Many of our movies and songs and literature speak of love, but almost always in a quite different and in many cases an opposite manner than the love described by Jesus in the Gospel. Our culture speaks of love almost exclusively in romantic terms of “falling in love” or of “being in love.”
Love in this sense is a powerful, wonderful physical and emotional attraction that we have towards another person. When we are “in love” in this way, we experience great joy and happiness in just being in the company of the person we love. There is no sacrifice in doing things for and spending time with a person with whom we are so infatuated.
As Christians, we believe that romantic love is good. God gave us the capacity for such an attraction to one another. This romantic love can motivate us to strive for the higher form of love – of which Jesus speaks about in the Gospel today, a love where we are willing to literally give our life for the other.
It is this love that is the foundation for Christian family life. The Christian married couple moves beyond infatuation and the level of simple emotion to committed, faithful love. The goal of Christian married loved is not seeking one’s own personal gratification, but seeking rather the good of one’s spouse before the satisfaction of one’s own wants and desires.
Romantic attractions, unfortunately, can lead us not to love, but to the indulgence of our wants and desires, often times hurting the one we claim to love. Unfortunately, it is this self-indulgence that our culture often mistakes for love. This is a phony love that often leads us to reckless behavior by which we hurt the one we “love”, ourselves, and others.
Our American literature and movies and songs for the most part fail to make this distinction between true love and the self-indulgence of our passions. We see this particularly in how our culture views the connection of love and sexual expression. The prevailing wisdom in our culture is dramatically different from Christian tradition and teaching regarding love. In the popular culture, it is assumed that feelings of romantic love lead very quickly and almost inevitably to sexual expression, regardless of one’s ability and freedom to make a lasting commitment to the other person.
In Christian teaching and tradition sexual intimacy outside of marriage is understood to be gravely morally wrong. Why? First of all and primarily it is sinful because it is dishonest. The act of sexual love by its nature communicates that I give myself totally and exclusively to the other person. If I am not willing and/or I am not able to commit myself completely and exclusively to other person then sexual intimacy communicates a lie and places the person, I supposedly love, at risk.
It places them at risk to the emotional scars and wounds that inevitably occur when I decide at later moment to walk away from this relationship. It is the scar and wound that comes from telling someone in a much more powerful way than words, I give myself completely and totally to you and then at a later moment saying in so many words: “Never mind! I no longer love you!”
This inauthentic love makes one of the natural, God-given outcomes of sexual intimacy, the conception of a new life, not cause for celebration but a trauma in the life of the couple. It creates a crisis that may tempt a couple to consider abortion – the killing of an innocent human life, the killing of their own child. We see the effects of this distorted, inauthentic love in our culture, where our government is actually defining the healthy conditions of fertility and pregnancy as diseases that need to be suppressed and prevented.
God designed sexual intimacy to imitate His love – to be life-giving. The so-called sexual revolution that continues to dominate our cultural values has denied this truth. Our culture perceives sexual love as about recreation, not procreation – the generation of new life.
Another tragic consequence of this fundamental misunderstanding of love is the destruction of marriages and families when individuals simply succumb to following the emotions of romantic love, even when that leads to marital infidelity. This “counterfeit love” creates havoc in the lives of families – spouses and children.
In short, what passes for love in our American culture is very different from the love that Jesus talks about in the gospel today. Rather, than laying down our life for another, we seek to gratify ourselves in such a way that we use others, we hurt others, and we even place innocent life at risk.
God’s Love Revealed in Jesus Inspires Heroic Lives of Love
The love that Jesus speaks about is not easily done. It means following Jesus in the way of service and sacrifice. It means a willingness to literally lay down our lives for the good of another.
This kind of love requires a heroism that is only possible when God’s grace is working within us. It is only possible when we have come to the realization of the truth of what St. John says: “Not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us.” Once, we have accepted this profound truth then we no longer seek to use others to get our desires met, but we are looking for opportunities to share the love of God that has already been lavished upon us. This authentic love seeks to serve rather than to be served, to give rather than to receive. Such love is at the heart of living an authentic Christian life, no matter our particular vocation.
Example of Modern Saints
Some of the more contemporary saints are beautiful examples of authentic Christian love. One such example is St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan priest who while in a Nazi concentration camp offered to substitute his own life for a man who had been selected for execution. Such heroism was the fruit of a life-time of trying to give His life in the service of others as a priest.
Another modern example is St. Gianna Molla, a wife, mother and medical doctor, who refused to compromise the life of her unborn child by receiving treatment that probably would have saved her life. As a doctor, Gianna Molla knew well the risk that she was taking. Gianna died shortly after giving birth to a daughter who now also is a medical doctor. A couple years, Gianna Molla’s Daughter visited the Kansas City area and spoke about her “saint mother.”
Mothers, as a whole probably better than any other group, epitomize authentic love because they so generously spend their lives for their children and families. Even though not officially canonized as Gianna Molla, most of us could also truthfully speak of our mothers as “saint mothers.”
Probably, in the 2nd half of the 20th century nobody better exemplified authentic Christian love, than Mother Theresa of Calcutta. In every chapel in the Convents of Mother Theresa’s sisters next to the image of our Crucified Lord are the words Jesus spoke from the cross: “I thirst.” Mother Theresa saw her own life and ministry and that of her sisters attempting to respond to the thirst of Jesus for souls.
The incredible energy exhibited by Mother Theresa to bring the love of Jesus to the poor, the sick and the dying came out of her own experience of the love of Jesus for her. She understood that it was critical for her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity to have this same experience of the personal love of Jesus for them, if they were going to be able to bring the love of God to the poor and the dying.
In 1993, Mother Theresa wrote a beautiful letter to all of her sisters reflecting on the words of Jesus: “I thirst.” In part this is what she wrote to her Sisters: “Jesus wants me to tell you again … how much love He has for each one of you – beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus – one to one – you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel – but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus – not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person – not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say “I love you” – impossible! Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe air. If not, prayer is dead – meditation only thinking. Jesus wants you each to hear Him – speaking in the silence of your heart.”
Most Important Part of Formation is Developing a Personal Friendship with Jesus
Mother Theresa knew that the most important need for her sisters was a friendship with Jesus. The same is true for a priest. My dear seminarians, the most important, the most crucial, element of your formation is to develop a rich friendship with Jesus.
Certainly, your academic studies are important. The pastoral skills that you will develop from your field service are also very helpful for your future ministry. However, if you do not have personal relationship with Jesus developed through daily conversations with Him in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, none of the other formation will matter.
You life as a priest is meant to be fruitful. You are called to bring many other souls to Jesus. You will have the opportunity to help many deepen their friendship with Our Lord. However, you will not be able to lead others to Jesus, unless you know Him yourself.
You will have nothing to give to others, if you have not experienced in your own heart the depth of our Lord’s love for each of you. It is only if you know, not in your head but in your heart, you have been first loved by God that you will be able to bring His love to others.
The Eucharist: Power Source for True Love
Each time, we come to the Eucharist we touch the love poured out on Calvary for us. In each Eucharist Our Lord renews the outpouring of His love and mercy on Calvary by offering again to share His life with us. At every Eucharist, every time we come forward to receive Holy Communion, the Lord wants to reveal to us again how much He loves us – not as a group, but personally and individually.
It is this love that is offered to us this morning. It is this love that has empowered Christians for two thousand years to love as Jesus loved. As we receive Our Lord in the Eucharist this morning may we open our hearts to be renewed again by the One who laid down His life for us, the One who is the source and power of love!