Try to complete the following phrases:
- Make America ….. again
- Brexit means ……
- God is ….
While the first two phrases have only recently become part of our everyday language, the third one has been, is and always will be, true.
God is love.
The three most important words in Sacred Scripture (1 John 4:8). Not just that God loves, that God is loving, that God shows love but that God IS love. The very essence, the very being of God is love. God cannot be anything else but love. So simple, yet so profound.
As a newly ordained priest (June 26th 2016), I am privileged to live a life where that love is the very source and summit of my ministry. Pope Francis once tweeted that “the Sacraments are the manifestation of the Father’s tenderness and love towards each of us” (February 20th 2015).
In a special way, God as love is deeply experienced for me when I celebrate the Sacraments with God’s people. Celebrating the Sacraments is still so very new for me, so these few reflections here are the fruit of a very short ministry in terms of time but a very deep one in terms of meeting people in moments of deep intimacy.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, what awesome love is made manifest when the child is welcomed into the Christian family and their God-given status as a beloved child of God is celebrated for the first time!
In the Sacrament of Confirmation, our young people are strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love itself (2 Timothy 1:7)! It is also out of love that their Sponsor commits to accompanying them in the mission to love God and love their neighbour – in other words, to bear the fruit of love in their lives (Galatians 5:22).
In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, our brothers and sisters often find themselves at their weakest, their most vulnerable. St Paul found that at those weakest moments in his life, he was at his strongest (2 Corinthians 12:10). Perhaps it is that such moments are opportunities for our human weakness to lay claim to divine strength? That divine strength can come through the anointing with the blessed oil where, as their priest, I pray that the sick person may be helped by the Lord “in his love and mercy” (Liturgy of Anointing).
What an awe-inspiring expression of love is the Sacrament of Marriage! Here, the man and woman come before the priest and the community as individuals and leave the celebration not as a couple but as a type of trinity – husband, wife and God. God must be present because love is present! It is love that brings a couple together, it is love that cements that relationship, it is love that helps them commit to each other in marriage, and it is love that sustains them in that marriage.
As they commit to each other in the covenant of marriage, God in a way commits again in that eternal covenant between God and God’s people. Priest and congregation get to witness this – what a blessing!
The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is how we come to know the love of God (1 John 3:16). Once a week, in my parish, we pray a Mass for Vocations to Holy Orders. Our prayer is that
“many may make it their choice in life to serve (God) in their brothers and sisters” (Prayer after Communion). Celebrating the Sacraments is one very tangible way in which I minister as a priest – but my response to God’s invitation to me is much more than just what I do.
The gift of myself to God and God’s people as the Church can only be nurtured and can only blossom in the embrace of God’s love for me – “for every ministerial action…provides an incentive to grow in ever greater love and service of Jesus Christ the head, shepherd and spouse of the Church, a love which is always a response to the free and unsolicited love of God in Christ.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992), 25).
That free, unsolicited love of God in Christ is something that I, like every other sinner, seem to reject at times – or at least distance myself from. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a great event of love that reconciles us with God, that brings us back towards the God who is love, that helps us realise that the further we try to go from God, the more God seeks us out.
God’s unfathomable love for us is the counterweight to the immensity of our sins – and the scales always tip in our favour! God is love – so there can be no limit to that love.
Love is expressed through a look, a touch, a voice. “Behold…take this all of you and eat of it…The Body of Christ”. Surely the Eucharist is the expression, the Sacrament of love par excellence! Jesus assures us that where two are gathered in his name, there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20).
Does that assurance not come literally alive at Holy Communion? As a priest, I share the Body of Christ with my brother or sister and as I share that Host across the divide between us, is that not Matthew 18:20 happening in that very moment? Two people gathered in His Name and the Lord substantially present in our midst? What love is present!
Pope Francis reminds us that “the priest…must feed the Lord’s flock with love.” As a priest, celebrating the Sacraments of our Church is the most tangible, the most efficacious, the most wonderful way in which the Lord’s flock are fed with love. It is a reciprocal nourishment that gives life and love to my ministry and helps me live a loving life as a priest for God and God’s people.
Where true love is dwelling, God is dwelling there:
Love’s own loving Presence love does ever share.
Love of Christ has made us out of many one;
In our midst is dwelling God’s eternal Son.
Give him joyful welcome, love him and revere:
Cherish one another with a love sincere.
– Fr. James J. Quinn