My good friend and fellow seminarian from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis (Jerry Byrd) started the formation year last fall at St. Meinrad with this strange glow in his eyes. I'd come to know Jerry as a great guy, often with a smile on his face, and with a very 'real' spirituality marked by a good sense of humor and a willingness to share with others the struggle that seminary formation can be. But there was something different in his demeanor - there was something new, something going on. And he said, literally ad nauseum - so much so that I began to tease him - that he was coming to believe in love. I told him he said it so much that I was starting to hear Cher singing in the background ('Do you believe in life after love....' or whatever that song was) everytime he opened his mouth.
He kept talking about some book. Said it had 'rocked his world'. Said it was all about love. Said he was really starting to believe in love. Well, OK folks - of COURSE he believed in love. I did too. After all, we were both in seminary. God is love. I've known the love of God. I've known the love of family. I've known romantic love, the love of good friendship, the love of the Church. I believed in love, too. And yet I wasn't running around SAYING it all the time... And it wasn't 'rocking my world' to the point that I was gleaming. And Jerry was.
I figured he'd just bumped into something good for him, and like so many times when that happens, it settles down - perhaps leaving its mark on us in some way, but we sorta' 'move on' from. Trouble is, two months into school, and this wasn't a passing thing with him. Hrm.... (I thought to myself...) what's this about?
Now, if there's one thing I know about myself, its that I'm jealous of growth. Not jealous in a bad way. At leat I don't think its bad. Jealous like - wow! That worked for you, huh? I want me some of that, too. I think that's a good kind of jealousy. Its an attraction to growth, development, progress that has often led me down a good path. And so finally one day, after I had teased Jerry with my horrible Cher imitation, he said something like, 'Look here - keep teasing if you want - but this book rocks. You should check it out for yourself. Maybe it'll rock your world.' Well - if there's another thing that I am, its willing to accept the gauntlet once offered. So I bought this book. "I Believe in Love" by Fr. Jean C. J. d'Elbee - its a book of retreat conferences that this priest had given for years and years based on the simple spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower.
And it has been rocking my world ever since, too.
Yep - I believe in love, too. And now I laugh at myself - because sometimes in a conversation, or in my prayer time, or in my writing or reflecting, I end up back at the example of the little way of St. Therese, or at a profound understanding or reflection on love... well, so often that I'm now teasing myself. The Cher background music (which, by the way, has nothing much to do with the book) plays in my head several times a day. I guess that's good payback for all the teasin I gave Jerry.
What it is about this concept - this book - the spirituality of little Therese - that has rocked my world so much? Oh wow - there's no way to lay it all out here. You wouldn't read it, and I don't have the time to type it. But I can give you the golden nugget in just a few words: It's all about love. Nothing matters but love. Following God means following love. Cultivate love - real love - in your vocation, in your apostolic work, in your discernment, in your prayer...and that true love will guide you with more certainty than bright polaris guides the sailor to wherever else you need to go, to whatever else you need to do.
And, perhaps more profoundly, I'm beginning to really see in my heart of hearts that no matter what your (my) vocational undertakings, discernment, apostolic work, or prayer goes and does, if its not guided at its heart by love, it will go nowhere. At least nowhere supernatural, nowhere beyond my own ability, nowhere profound, lifechanging, future altering.
And there's a little miracle in all of this, too: An awakening to love that has been there all along. When I look back over my life at what was good, and (as close to) perfect (as possible), and of value that I've ever accomplished, I see that it was so in direct proportion to love.
But there's something even more profound that I'm left with as I finish this book - yes, that's right, I'm just now finishing it...there's so much on each page that I didn't (couldn't) read it straight through as for a class, but rather have been reading it a page at a time - sometimes a paragraph at a time, since about October...
...there's something even more profound that still resonates throughout all of my being these days... Christ's love makes all things new, Christ's love makes me enough for him (if I will surrender to it), Christ's love - if I can dive in over my head with no hopes of a safe place to find solid ground below, and let myself fall into the bottomless abyss of that love... well, if I can abandon myself completely in it, it will take all of my try, and all of my fail... all of my effort... all of my weakness... all of my sinfulness... it will take all of that, and make it perfect.
I don't have to do anything but love more purely and perfectly, and abandon myself more completely to Pure and Perfect love... and as I do that, the rest will - by supernatural means - be made as it should be.
Little Therese discovered a great truth that is lost in our day: We don't have to be great among men, we don't have to be skilled and talented and competent. There's a danger in those things: we become like Peter who, once he discovered he'd taken a few steps on the water perhaps began to misunderstand that HE actually had (himself) taken those steps, and began to sink. I don't - can't - shouldn't - rely on my skills, talents, abilities... I don't need to be a great man, accomplish great things, speak well, learn to preach or preside well... I don't need to be bishop, or archbishop, or dean, or vicar... I don't need to do anything but see and daily give myself more and more to total abandonment to the infinite love of God. And if I can learn to do that small thing, and do it well, and do it motivated by love and nothing more... then, whatever I do or don't do, succeed or fail at, become or don't become - well, then it will be OK.
I can do that. I can learn to love more. I can make love my journey. And trust that all the rest will be as it should.
(Hahaha - cue the Cher track....)
So far, this summer assignment here in Corbin has done nothing but confront me on a daily basis with how much joy and peace and 'rightness' what I perceive the life of the diocesan priest creates in me. It is my desire to continue on this path. But more and more, too, what I MOST want to do is just love more purely, more perfectly - and surrender completely to God's love. If I can do that one thing well, if I can truly abandon myself to love... all the rest will fall into place.
Deus caritas est. God IS love. I believe in love.