What Is Love?

6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48

Psalm 98:1-4

1 John 4:7-10

John 15:9-17

When preparing to preach at Mass, in my experience, it is very easy to just skim over the 1st and 2nd readings and even the Responsorial Psalm in order to see what the Gospel message is for the week. Very often the Gospel passages proclaimed at Mass have the “meat” of Jesus’ teachings that can really change our lives when we apply them and live them out. Today’s Gospel from John is no different. It’s message is clear and to the point. Jesus tells us, “Love one another as I love you.”

But in order to better understand this “love” that Jesus is talking about, we really need to go back to the 2nd reading today from the first Letter of Saint John. It would be a shame if we just skimmed over it because I believe it is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament. It reads almost like a love poem. It is only 4 lines long, but profoundly powerful. So allow me to read it to you again:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10).

 So next time you tell someone that you “love” him or her… I want you to think of this passage. Because all you ever wanted to or needed to know about love, is explained in these 4 verses. Therefore, you really have to understand this passage so that you are sure that you actually mean what you say when using the word “love.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” Love comes from one source… God. It’s not a man made emotion. It originates from God who is love. Therefore if you truly have love inside of you, then you have God inside of you as well. Even an atheist, one who doesn’t believe in God, in some way, knows God simply by loving others.

“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Therefore if God is love, it would make sense that someone who has absolutely no love for anyone can NOT possibly know God. I would take this even farther and say that love and hate can’t reside in the same person at the same time because of how opposite they are. You can’t on one hand tell your child, a friend or your soul mate that you “love” them but on the other hand hold a grudge or hate against someone else. One expresses the presence of God. The other expresses the absence of God. The two don’t mesh.

“In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” Here, God reveals to us what is love. God didn’t reveal love through His speech, but through His actions. God decided to show us what love looked like by sending us His Son. To live for us. To die for us. To save us. I personally couldn’t imagine standing by watching one of my children suffer a horrendous death. Even if it was for the greater good, I don’t think I would have it in me to keep going. But that’s exactly what God did. He allowed His Son to suffer out of love for us.

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” Love is not in the receiving, it is in the giving. Love wasn’t “created” by us out of thanksgiving towards God… Love was “born” from God when He extended it to us through His Son. This sacrifice is the height… the pinnacle of true Love.

So now you are all experts on “love,” right?? Understanding love is the easy part. But it takes a lifetime to properly put it into motion and probably won’t be perfected until you reach heaven. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try while we’re down here living in the world.

So here’s my challenge to all of you…your homework for the week. Be more aware of the level of love you are expressing towards others in your daily lives.

Meaning… if you have high levels of negativity, anger, gossip, holding tighter to those grudges, eye rolls, having to argue everything, cursing or sin in general… your love is out of balance. It means you are distancing yourself from God instead of walking towards Him.

When these things creep up, because it will happen from time to time, you need techniques to counteract them. Simply recognizing this when it’s happening is a great first step. Then try some deep breathing, meditation, prayer, read some Scripture or take a walk. Just putting a smile on your face will do wonders. And here’s the big one…go to confession. This sacrament can give you more grace and love then you’ll probably ever truly realize. It’s that important… so no more excuses! Go!!

The only way to return to love is to return to God. So when your love is low, turn to God. For He is the source of all Love. The source of all Joy.

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It’s All About God

4th Sunday of Advent (December 24, 2007)

2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16

Psalm 89:2-3,4-5,27,29(2a)

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

I’ve got a complaint to lodge to everyone here today. I got the short end of the straw and need to get this off of my chest! First of all, I take my calling as a Deacon seriously. When I get up here to preach, I spend a lot of time preparing on what to say. It’s actually very intimidating if you think about it. Talking about “religion” can be a very volatile thing if something is said contrary to one’s personal beliefs. Meaning… it’s easy to offend someone when you preach on God’s Word. This is why I go to prayer when I start preparing for a homily. I ask God to use me as a tool. To speak through me. Not my words, but His. This is important because the homily helps “break open” the Scripture we hear at Mass and gives all of you something to contemplate over the week. That, by the way, is your weekly homework. Did you know that? You’re supposed to take what you hear in the Scriptures and the homily and allow it to challenge you throughout the week. To change you and become more “Christ-like.”

And that’s where my complaint comes into play. Fr. Al and Deacon Bruce preached the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Advent. And they did very well if I do say so myself. I’m even a little jealous that Fr. Al got to wear the rose colored vestments last week when he preached and I didn’t.

But what did I get? The 4th Sunday of Advent. Do you realize how short the 4th week of Advent is? Less than 24 hours. It ends Sunday night with the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord since Christmas is on a Monday this year. So instead of giving something to challenge you all week… I only have to challenge you for a few hours. Then you’ll forget all about what was in my homily because you’ll be too busy opening presents, eating wonderful, delicious food and sipping on wine or bourbon in your ugly Christmas sweaters!

But, like a good Deacon, I put on my big boy pants and decided to prepare this homily as best I could. And like every homily I write, I began this one with prayer and asked God what He wanted me to tell you. As I was in a deep, contemplative, prayerful state, I sat quietly and said, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

And do you know what happened? A voice from the clouds whispered in my ear and said, “Dearest Deacon Brian, I’m sorry that you didn’t get to wear the rose colored vestments this year, it’s not your turn. Yes, the 4th week of Advent is super short. It happens every 7 years. Stop being so whiny. This is not about you. It’s about Me and My flock. So quit dwelling on the negatives and focus on what we will be celebrating is less than 24 hours. Now, go put on your purple vestment and preach the Word of God! But, just like the 4th week of Advent, keep it short!”

So, here goes… it’s not about us. It’s not about stroking our egos. It’s not about how awesome we are in the eyes of others. It’s all about God. Everything. God could have let us all rot down here on earth. He could have turned His back on us and said, you guys screwed up and I’m done with you. Or, He could have come down from heaven like a powerful military general with the entire army of Angels behind Him to annihilate us and start over.

But He didn’t.

Instead… as we hear in today’s Gospel from Luke, He came to us as a baby through the womb of a humble, poor, faithful woman. Why? Out of pure love to save us all.

So here is your homework to contemplate over the next few hours until we meet again to celebrate Christmas:

Let us all be a little more humble like Mary. Let us all be a little more thankful like Elizabeth who thought she was barren. And, like God, let us all be a little more loving.

Always Choose Love

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept 18, 2016)

Amos 8:4-7

Psalm 113:1-2,4-6,7-8

1 Timothy 2:1-8

Luke 16:1-13

Back when I was a “baby” Deacon, I would usually write out my homilies about a month in advance. That way I could fine-tune them over and over again and try to get them in my head as much as possible. That was in 2012. Now, 4 years later, I pretty much wait until a few days before I preach to put them together. I’m glad I did that this month because I had some good “homily material” happen to me about a week ago that fits perfectly with today’s reading from 1 Timothy.

For my Facebook friends out there, you may have already heard this story so please bear with me. As I was coaching my U14 soccer team last week in Lexington, I heard screaming from the field behind me so I turned to see what was going on. Apparently the referee blew his whistle for a hard foul. As the ref was reaching for his yellow card (caution), the U14 player started mouthing off to the adult referee. The referee then correctly pulled out his red card instead (ejection). At that point the head coach started screaming and had to be restrained from running out on the field by his assistant coach. Now he wasn’t screaming at his player for the foul or use of inappropriate language… No, he was screaming at the referee for ejecting his player. The referee calmly walked over to the coach and, I assume, explained the reasoning for the red card. The coach stood there long enough to listen but then quickly walked away yelling again all the way back to his bench. The coach should have been ejected but wasn’t. My point…. it’s U14 recreational soccer. These are 12-13 year old kids…. One of which committed a bad foul, then argued with the referee using disrespectful language. His coach reinforced the player’s bad behavior by acting like a screaming baby and 4 teams and all of the fans in the area witnessed it. And we wonder why there’s a shortage of referees in youth sports….

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with the reading today from 1 Timothy? Paul is asking us to pray for everyone, “that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” That coach was not quiet, he was not tranquil and he was lacking in dignity at that moment. You see, being a Christian extends outside of these four walls. It’s easy to act like a “good person” when you are sitting here at church for an hour on a Saturday or Sunday. But out there in the real world is where our “Christianity” is put to the test. I have no idea if that coach was a Christian. I have no idea if he was just having a really bad day and lost it in the heat of the competition. I’ve been at that point many times in my life. Trust me. I’m no saint! But what gives us the right to act like “angels” on a Sunday in Church, but then tear into each other the other 6 days of the week?

It’s taken me a very long time to realize the root of many of our problems, in my opinion, can be traced back to one thing… anger. Paul tells us today that, “It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” Anger is a very tricky thing. It seems like so many people are full of anger these days. I mean come on… just look at the presidential race for example. It’s nothing but anger being spewed back and forth between the candidates and, unfortunately, many of their supporters. Why? It’s so much easier to hate someone than it is to love them. Love takes putting some of our own needs on the back burner while you try to help and support others. Love means being respectful of another person’s views, even if they don’t necessarily line up with your own. Love means praying for sinners rather than condemning them.

But the good news is this… loving rightly often leads to quiet and tranquility. Love leads to dignity. Love leads to peace and communication instead of arguing. And guess what?? Paul tells us in 1 Timothy that, “This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” And what is that truth? Jesus Christ gave himself up as a ransom for all.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Love.

Ok, now allow me to bring this full circle. What are we doing here in church today? We are praying and worshiping the God of the universe. We are uniting together to honor our Heavenly Father who gave us His Son…who died for our sins so that we may have eternal life. We are offering our prayers for each other and for those that are not here with us today… those who are currently outside of these walls. We are praying that all of us, along with the people “out there”, will come to feel and know the love of God in our hearts so that we will have peace.

We do this so that when we are faced with challenges “out there” we will hopefully stop and think about how we should act vs. lashing out at others with anger or frustration. By being “here” in church, we are asking God to give us the Grace to act more Christ-like “out there” in the face of sin and temptation. We are asking God to give us the restraint to not yell at the nice referee who just ejected our player for a just reason, but rather allow us to use restraint and model good behavior to all of the fans, parents and athletes watching us.

This is not easy at all. But neither was the love Jesus showed us as he hung on the cross. Loving with that intensity forces us to die to our own ways. This is painful and there’s no short cut. It is a marathon, not a sprint. A marathon that leads us to eternal love with God in Heaven.

Do not lose sight of this.

Because I don’t know about you… but I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of being frustrated…

I desire quiet, tranquility and peace. I desire God to fill my heart completely and totally.

So please, join with me today in prayer and ask God to give all of us the grace to always choose love.

Love One Another

5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016)

Acts 14:21-27

Psalm 145:8-13

Revelation 21:1-5

John 13:31-35

I want to paint a picture of our modern society with the help of popular Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly. In one of his books he writes,

“We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers. We spend more, but have less. We buy more and enjoy it less. We have bigger houses, but smaller families. We have more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees, but less common sense. More knowledge, but less judgment. More experts, yet more problems. More medicines, but less health. We drink too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch too much TV, and pray too little. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We have higher incomes, but lower morals. We have learned how to make a living, but not how to live life. We have added years to life, but not life to years. We have been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet our new neighbor. We have conquered outer space, but not inner space. We have done larger things, but not better things. We have cleaned up the air, but are constantly polluting our souls. We plan more, but accomplish less. We have learned to rush, but not to wait. We have more food, but less fulfillment. More kinds of food, but less nutrition. More acquaintances, but fewer friends. There is greater world peace, but more domestic warfare. We have more leisure in our life, but less enjoyment of life. These are days of two incomes and fancier houses, but more broken homes. Our culture is becoming increasingly too busy, too noisy, and it’s pace too fast.

I personally think this description is eerily accurate. So my question is…WHY? What is going on with us that we have allowed society to get this way? I believe our society has gotten so off base because too many people have allowed themselves to follow their own path oblivious to God’s plan for their lives. I’m saying that we are a people in need of direction because without direction, we tend to wonder around like lost sheep. We are in need of a shepherd.

Last week, we heard from John’s Gospel that Jesus is the Good Sheppard. This week that Good Sheppard tells us what to do. Jesus tells us, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

And just how much did Jesus love us? All the way to the cross! He also, however, showed us His love in many other ways. For example, when Jesus encountered a woman caught in adultery, He calmly spoke with her in such a way that allowed her to see her sin and then told her to go and sin no more. When Jesus saw the moneychangers in the temple taking advantage of the poor, He furiously flipped over their tables to grab their attention. These two examples show us that there are different degrees of love and even Jesus got frustrated. After all, people can be frustrating at times, right? Anyone who deals with the public can attest to this! But Jesus did what needed to be done and He said what needed to be said in those situations. Why? Because He cared about their souls. He wanted them to return to God’s path.

Now, sometimes, when we hear this verse commanding us to “love one another,” our politically correct culture has a tendency to want to twist it. For example, when we try to correct someone on a topic of faith and morals or explain the “why” behind Church teachings to someone who disagrees with the teaching, we’re told we aren’t being “loving” or we’re “judging.” “You Christians, always judging and putting down others!” Anyone ever hear that line? Makes me want to gag and roll my eyes every time. Now granted, there’s a right and a wrong way to handle very delicate situations and we need to deal with people in the most loving way possible. But you know, sometimes we need to get in there and flip a few tables over just like Jesus did in the temple! Sometimes we need to stretch our comfort zones and put ourselves out there in order to share our faith with others. After all, if we are to love one another as Jesus Christ loves us, we should want our friends and family to end up in Heaven, right? Therefore, we need to be willing to lay down our lives for those we love because someone’s soul… their salvation… is more important than our comfort level.

You know… contrary to popular belief, there ARE absolute truths. You want to get out of your comfort level? Talk about absolute truth! Tell people they are responsible for their actions. Tell them hell is real. Do this, not out of fear and hate, but out of love. Love compels us to want others to be “better” in the eyes of God. So what’s holding us back? I do want to stress and remind you that we need to make an honest attempt to talk about our faith in a loving way. Better yet, we need to be examples to others by actually living out our faith and pray that people will be influenced by our actions… so much… that they will “go and sin no more.”

On the other hand, if we keep shying away from teaching the Truth and Love of Jesus Christ, we’re going to keep living in the culture described by Matthew Kelly when I first began this homily. We need to be the change the world so desperately needs.

And how do we do that? By changing our focus. By changing our direction. By imitating the love shown to us by Jesus Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has opened the gates of heaven and allowed us the opportunity to have eternal life.

That, my friends, is True Love. That is the message Jesus Himself has commissioned all of us to spread to every corner of the world. So if you’re not doing it already, I challenge you to get off our hind end, get out there and start loving one another as Jesus loves us!