Thursday, May 19, 2016
The Roman Catholic Man and the Virtue of Love
Agape is a virtue that requires the self gift of God first before we can respond. St John says in his first epistle that, "We love, because He first loved us." (I John 4:19) It is a virtue, which means that it is something that grows within us because of the discipline of intentional self-giving. For the Roman Catholic man, this virtue is the prime motivator of all of the other virtues, both cardinal and theological. We seek prudence because we love. We seek to have self-control because we love. We give to another what they need because we love. We stand strong because we love. We set our priorities towards the things of heaven because we love. We act in deference and obedience to the will of God because we love. The Roman Catholic Man who cultivates the virtue of love is the tower of strength that is needed so badly in the family and the parish! The more he cultivates the divine gift of love, the stronger his relationship with God and the stronger his relationship with others.
When love is misdirected and ordered to the things of the world, it is the most destructive of forces. St Paul tells us the love of money is the root of all evil ( I Timothy 6:10). In fact, there is another word for this:lust. As the virtue of love is completely self giving, the deadly sin of lust is a perversion of love, a complete taking. Lust reduces a person as a means to an end. Whether that end is sexual pleasure, wealth. power, possessions, fame, or influence , lust will drain all dignity from the other so as to satiate the self.
Love is the summation of the virtues. The greatest summation of love for the Roman Catholic man is Jesus Christ on the cross. The selflessness of the virtue of love is willing to suffer and sacrifice for what is loved. To give an example, I remember years ago that my dad fed himself last at dinner. We were poor. I thought it was just what a man did as a matter of honor. He never complained about it. Out of respect we would save the biggest piece of chicken for him. What he was doing , though, was making sure his wife and children got fed first. It is a small gesture. But the virtue of love leads us to gladly put the needs of others first, especially the needs of those placed in our care. It is something that grows as it is practiced.
When we Roman Catholic men look at the world around us we can see the triumph of lust over love in this society. Pleasure comes first. Fun comes first. Recreation or faith? Recreation comes first. We see the reign of entitlement in our culture. Many want everything for free; life is about someone else satiating me! There is no other course for this to go other than a complete breakdown of the culture.
We Roman Catholic men need to stand tall in witness to what the actual virtue of love can do and what it looks like. Marriage will only last for as long as the complete self giving virtue of love is its anchor. Many will say that the latest trend to same sex marriage has destroyed the institution of marriage. That is like saying the bulldozer took down the skyscraper. No the wrecking ball did. Decade after decade after decade. That wrecking ball was the acceptance of divorce, artificial birth control, promiscuity, pornography, and abortion. These things are inconsistent with self-giving love. They are its natural enemy. In fact, every major breakdown we have can be directly attributed to the lack of ability or desire to cultivate the virtue of love.
To the Roman Catholic man called to marriage: You cannot have a healthy marriage and family life without cultivating the virtue of love. After God, your wife comes first! She is not your servant, slave, or prostitute. You are to love her with the same self-giving love with which Christ loved us on the Cross! That love will matter as you teach your children , with your wife, what to love God and each other looks like. I as a pastor and teacher can talk about love until I am blue in the face and it'll not matter one iota if you are not modeling it in the family. I invite you go to I Corinthians 13 and read St Paul's description of the virtue of love; of its qualities and properties. That, good sir, is the standard of excellence to which we are held and by which we will be judged by God! If this love is lived in the family, it will strengthen every entity to which that family belongs...especially your local parish.
To the Roman Catholic man called to be a priest: As the Persona Christi, we are to be the very image of the virtue of love. Can we imitate St. Paul, who refers to himself being poured out like a libation for those he was called to bring the Gospel of Christ? Can we look at our relationship with God and those placed under our care using the same standard of St. Paul's description of love in I Corinthians 13? Are we patient and kind? Do people see us as such or as temperamental? Woe to us if our flocks grow scared of us for fear of wrath or neglect! Do we gladly call when beckoned in an emergency? Will we live simply so as to show a detachment from the world and an adherence to God? Love never compromises truth. Do we through our preaching and teaching extol our sheep to such excellent heights?
This kind of love is not easy. However the more we practice it, the more natural it becomes. The more it is practiced the more it can be the salt that is needed, the light that is needed. To be sure, we will fail both in time and eternally if we fail at love. For nothing of lust can enter the Kingdom of Heaven; no selfishness, no narcissism, no self-aggrandizement. To be joined in eternal union with God, who is love, requires us to utilize the divine grace and gift of love so that our lives become an answer to God's love. Make no mistake: You'll not be a true man, a true Roman Catholic, or a man of any virtue without love.