My Vocation is Love
Fr Seamus Nohilly SMA preached on the theme My vocation is Love on the fourth night of the Novena.
Some time ago a particular presenter on The Living Word on RTE Radio finished his ‘Thought for the Day’ by saying that Our Lord will only ask us one question at the end of our lives: ‘How well have you loved’?
- This all encompassing nature of Love was brought out by St. Augustine when he said ‘Love and then do what you will’
- Of course Jesus Himself put this truth very clearly when he said the whole Law and the prophets can be summed up in ‘Love of God and Love of neighbour’
The majority of you who have attended this Novena over the years and are quite familiar with the short life of St. Thérèse will not be surprised when St. Thérèse said “Love is my vocation” Listen to what she said in what many consider to be her best efforts at poetry – one verse from ‘Living on Love’:
Living on Love is giving without limit
Without claiming any wages here below.
Ah! I give without counting, truly sure
That when one loves, one does not keep count !
Overflowing with tenderness, I have given everything,
To the Divine Heart…. Lightly I run.
I have nothing left but my only wealth:
Living on Love
No matter which vocation each of us has in life , our calling is likewise “to live on Love” How then can we, while we make this Novena this year, grow and improve in “giving without limits ….not keeping count …overflow with tenderness”, to use St. Thérèse's words. Let me make this core point in this reflection this evening about where we must begin if love is to be ever more the outstanding characteristic of our life.
I go back to the very first Retreat I made as a 14 year old in our SMA Secondary School at the time – in Ballinafad, Co. Mayo. The one thing I can remember from that Retreat is what the priest said: “Many of the Saints considered themselves the greatest of sinners!” My reaction was – come off it; who do you think you are codding. My idea of a saint then was of someone if they sinned at all, it was only in a small matter and then not very often.
Now many years later I think I understand better what those saints were saying about themselves. What makes a Saint a Saint; what distinguishes the truly holy person is not so much the extent of their good deeds and services to the church, but rather their keen sensitivity to and depth of appreciation of God’s love for them – a love manifested in the person, life, Death and Res. Of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. They were so attuned to this unconditional love for them that they saw their own response to this love as inadequate and falling so far short of what it ought to be and because of this they saw sinfulness in themselves; SIN AS A FAILURE TO LOVE AS ONE COULD AND IN MISSING MANY OPPORTUNITIES TO DO SO. This is one of the best definitions of sin.
So to improve in our vocation to love, it is not so much or primarily about upping the number of my good deeds; not so much about making more strenuous efforts of my own strength; not so much about making firm new resolutions but rather on a daily basis allowing the love of God in Jesus wash over me; let the love of God more and more touch my heart – and it is in prayer; in familiarity and reflection on the word of God in the Scriptures that this transformation will take place in us. It is this sensitivity to such overwhelming love from God that impels one to respond; to give; to reach beyond oneself; to be missioned out. If the first part is right, my response will fall into place.
I believe that we have now a great opportunity to make good progress in this central challenge of the Christian life in the Year of Faith that is beginning in some 15 days time – on 11 October I believe in incentives as moments of grace. We need them – so let us make this Year of Faith one of prayer; one of greater information and formation in our Faith; one not only of increased knowledge but felt knowledge of Jesus Christ; in short a faith of the heart and from the heart– like what characterised the 23 years of St. Thérèse’s life.
Let me conclude this exhortation by referring to a phenomenon that is the very opposite of the Saints feeling they were the greatest of sinners. It is from my own experience of being a minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation especially in the past 10 to 20 years. When someone comes to confession and says it may be 2 years, 5 or 10 years since they made their last confession I am delighted that they have made the breakthrough and I make a point of assuring them that the Lord is so pleased that they have come back to make their peace and receive the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament. But in some cases then that happiness turns to disappointment when the Penitent says something like I cannot remember any particular sin that I am guilty of. That I find sad – that in 5 or 10 years one cannot point to anything one has done wrong and especially cannot point to any missed opportunities to reach out in love. And the reason why one does not have what I call a healthy and wholesome sense of sin is, because one is not touched by the love God or another human being. If we have no sense of experience of being loved then we will have a poor sense of sin in our lives.
In summary where we are to put the emphasis in making love our calling is nicely put by St. John in his Letter Chapter 4, verses 10-11:
“This is love: not that we loved God but that He first loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins: Dear Friends, if such has been the love of God, we too must love one another”
And I leave the last word to St. Thérèse as she looks towards the end of her life – the last verse from the poem I quoted from earlier: Living on Love:
Dying of love is what I hope for,
When I shall see my bonds broken,
My God will be my great reward,
I don’t desire to possess other goods.
I want to be on fire with His love
I want to see Him, to unite myself to Him forever.
That is my Heaven… that is my destiny
Living on Love!!!...”