Today's Gospel, about the nature of true love, brings to mind a young man in my first parish. He had a lovely wife, three children and, as a family, they practiced their faith. I felt comfortable with them, even visited their home on several occasions. One day the husband approached me in private. “Father,” he said, “I am thinking about leaving my wife.”
The words devastated me, but I tried to keep calm. I asked him the usual questions: Did they have a fight? Was she involved with another man or he another woman? Drugs? Alcohol? Abuse?
He responded “no” to my questions.
“Well, what?” I finally asked.
“I don’t know,” he said sadly, “I guess I just don’t love her any more.”
Those were the seventies. Our society was accepting the ideology that it was hypocritical to do something unless you were motivated by strong feelings. And that a powerful desire, in itself, could justify almost any course of action. “If it feels good, do it.”
That way of thinking goes back to German philosophers, like Nietzsche, who considered “Will” the ultimate basis of reality. The 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion can be understood in that light. Even killing an unborn child is permissible – as long as the mother freely chooses to do so. From a Nietzschean standpoint it is a no-brainer: On one side you have a person with a strong desire to free herself from the pregnancy and on the other side, a being with very limited ability to assert his or her will.
But I did not wish to argue philosophy with my friend. Rather, I asked him this question: “Do you think someday you will no longer love your children?”
Horrified, he stated quickly, “No. Never. I will always love them, no matter what.”
I left it at that. I told my friend I would pray for him and his wife. That I did, more ardently perhaps than any prayer during my priesthood. The last I heard from them – a couple decades later – they are still together, even added a child. I don’t know how happy he is. If I read Jesus’ words correctly, happiness in terms of human emotions is a secondary issue. Good emotions may come to us, and often do, when we put his will first. But love itself is not a feeling; it is a decision:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments…
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.”
If Jesus' words seem restrictive, consider the alternative: slavery to every changing whim and emotion. My young friend discovered the font of genuine freedom.
Bulletin (for May 5, 2002)
Announcements Not Leave You Orphans
From Archives (Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Catholic Lite Won't Heal These Wounds (from Los Angeles Times)
Pictures of New Parish Puppy
my bulletin column
SMV Bulletin (be patient - sometimes we have problems uploading)
Parish Picture Album
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Raymond Arroyo's Interview with Bill Donohue on John Jay Report