As we have the service organizations by the chapel during lunches this week, I think it is important to remember that the word for love in Latin is caritas, charity, and the saint for today, Sept. 17, is a great example of charity. Robert Bellarmine was an important apologist, who explained the faith during the protestant reformation. Buried in Rome where he took care of so many beggars, Bellarmine was known for pawning off even his episcopal ring, and at least twice his own bed mattress in order to give money to the poor around him. His financeer who was in charge of his giving as well, would often complain about things disappearing in the residence such as the drapes, to which St. Robert Bellarmine said "the walls won't catch a cold!" Instead of big decorative graves for his parents, he took care of the needy in their name. Rome called him il nuovo poverello, the new little poor-one, referring to the great Saint Francis (which was actually Robert's middle name and his patron).
But Charity and service are meant to fill up our whole lives: we are called to love, so that every moment of our lives is spent in love, like Bellarmine spent anything for others. We should remember the great insight of St. Therese of Lisieux and her discovery of her vocation. Therese is a great saint, also a Doctor of the Church (one of 4 women and the youngest and most recent of them all). She is actually my brother's favorite saint, but he's a little jealous that my birthday was the day she was born into heaven, just a couple weeks away.
Anyways, while in the convent, Therese struggled to figure out what exactly she was called to spend her life for. She had such great desires and dreams, yet she felt so ill-equipped to accomplish any of them. She wanted to be a priest bringing people the sacraments, a martyr shedding her blood for Jesus, a missionary bringing new souls into the Church, a doctor of the Church (like Bellarmine) who led many closer to God, and not give up the life of a cloistered nun spending herself in prayer with God and for others.
She searched for her answer using Lectio Divina (praying with Scripture and letting God speak to her, like I just taught you freshmen in religion class last week). She used today's reading, 1 Cor. 12 and 13, she must have spent an hour or more in prayer, and now I will read her from her autobiography called The Story of a Soul.
At prayer these desires made me suffer a true martydom. I opened the Epistles of St. Paul to seek some relief. The 12th and 13th chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians fell before my eyes. I read, in the first, that not all can be apostles, prophets, and doctors, etc., that the Church is composed of different members, and that the eye cannot also be at the same time the hand.
The answer was clear, but it did not satisfy my desires, it did not give me peace.... Without being discouraged I continued my reading, and this phrase comforted me: “Earnestly desire the more perfect gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). And the Apostle explains how all gifts, even the most perfect, are nothing without Love... that charity is the excellent way that leads surely to God. At last I had found rest.... Considering the mystical Body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather, I wanted to recognize myself in all... Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church has a body composed of different members, the noblest and most necessary of all the members would not be lacking to her. I understood that the Church has a heart, and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood... I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places... in a word, that it is eternal!
Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!... Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place... in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!.... Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”
Therese finds LOVE as the heart of her vocation. The more we become like God, who is Love itself, the greatest good we are to those around us, because Love transforms everything.
God is love. The words can almost be interchanged at any moment. Any love that is worthy of the name is God. So we can look at the words of St. Paul and say: God is patient, God is kind, God is not jealous, inflated, pompous or rude, etc. We could also replace it with "the Father" or "The Son" or "Jesus" or "The Holy Spirit."
But here's the real good one for all of us: because we are called to love, we can use this passage as an Examination of Conscience for us. Fr. Terry is patient. "Am I patient? Am I jealous or rude or pompous?" Maybe these words are too old-fashioned for you, so I thought about some better ways to say it: Do I bash people either in person or behind their backs, or on social media? Do I get mad when something good happens to someone else instead of me? Do I hold grudges? Do I feel hurt when others get more attention than me? Do I always want things to go my way? Do I end up complaining about it? Do I sulk? Do I spread rumors to get back at people? When was the last time I forgave someone? When was the last time I sincerely asked for forgiveness? (that is part of rejoicing with the truth - having the humility to confess it).
Saint Paul talks also about the Old Man vs. New Man. The Old is Adam, earthly and sinful. The New is Jesus, born of God and heavenly, and glorified. We as humans are a work in progress between the Old Man and the New Man. We have all been born into a world of sin, with a confused and corrupted heart that often leads us away from God. But we are also redeemed, or bought back, from those sins by Jesus' death on the cross.
Christ, the New Man, transforms us, if we let Him, into His image. And The Mass is the place for that transformation. Here in the Mass we see that love given, and we receive it in the Eucharist. The Corinthians were scolded harshly by St. Paul precisely because the Mass and the accompanying "Feast of Love" or "Agape meal" became an opportunity for division instead of unity. The struggle goes on today. We all can ask ourselves if we really live out the true meaning of the Mass as well as we should. I think the answer would be yes and no. Yes we are trying, but no, we aren't there perfectly yet.
On our journey to becoming more like Jesus, to being Love like St. Therese, and to being generous servants of the poor like St. Robert Bellarmine, we have to keep remembering who we truly are meant to be: who God has redeemed us to be: the New Adam, Christ Jesus, who is perfectly patient, kind, not jealous, etc. like from 1 Cor. 13. If we don't reaffirm our identity, the devil will sneak in and wedge our sins against us. If we let him remind us of all we've done wrong, we will run and hide from God, and then we will hurt our community and ourselves by holding grudges, being jealous, complaining, and tearing down relationships instead of building the family of Saint Joseph High School.
Here at Mass, we ask God who is love to help us to put our sins and the sins of our neighbor behind us. We lay those sins at the foot of the Cross. If we need to, we return to His loving embrace through the sacrament of Confession. And finally, in this Sacrament of Divine Love, we beg Jesus in the Eucharist to help us to become what we are already but not yet: perfect saints who let Him love the world through us.