In 2015, I was installed president of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights at a liturgy celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth in Western Australia. Because of this, I am always drawn to the archbishop’s gift for imagery. This month, I am reminded particularly of his images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the vine. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is depicted as he who is treading ahead of us, guiding our paths; standing behind us, impelling us to move in a particular direction; and standing amidst us, bringing us closer to himself. As the vine and the branches, Jesus is depicted as he who is so united with us that our very existence — our life and well-being — is dependent on our connection to him because apart from him, we can do nothing.
These images are rooted in God’s profound love for each one of us. Jesus tells us that if we keep his commandments, we will remain in his love. He impels us to love one another as he loves us. Yet how often do we consider expressing our love to those who do not look like us, those who do not speak like us, or even those who do not share the same faith as us?
Recently, I have been well-loved by many. I have been told how much I am loved by my peers in ministry, those with whom I collaborate around the country, and those with whom I have worked around the world. Amidst the hardships I have experienced, I admit that it feels good to be loved just as it feels good to love in return, and I am grateful that the Lord has given me more time to be in his service. While these feelings of love are appreciated, let us not dwell on our feelings of love, but let us remember it is our decision to love.
How many times do we consider the quality of our love? When we choose to remain in the love of Jesus, we also consciously must choose to build a wider circle with others, always seeking the inherent good of other people. When Christ exhorts us to remain in his love, we are called to make a conscious choice to effect his will, doing the best we can for even those who are strangers among us. Jesus tells the disciples to love one another as he has loved us and that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, yet how often are we willing to lose our very lives for the sake of the Gospel? Jesus gave his life for even those who crucified him.
As we consider the detrimental effects of the degradation of the family and society, we have a duty to continue to resist the temptation to allow secularism to compete with our holiness.
We have to help young people resist the perceived cultural norms that encourage “me, my, and I.” As our culture has become more individualistic, teaching many to love oneself first, we are called to help each other resist the temptation to seek what is of material benefit to us before thinking of others.
The Lord reminds us it was he who chose us. So, if Christ chose us, we can be assured not only that Christ is aware of our every weakness, but also that Christ will give us all the strength and help we need to actively love in our world.
Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God; therefore, may we always see the dignity of each person. May we first model how, and then challenge one another to love like St. Peter Claver, St. Teresa of Kolkata and St. Vincent de Paul, who each recognized the presence of Christ in people whose dignity was disregarded by society. This is how we proclaim the Gospel, and this is how we live the common priesthood we received at our baptism.
Love is not merely about feelings or emotional connection. Rather, love is a decision to will the best for each other. In doing so, I earnestly believe we will produce fruit, and bountiful fruit will remain.
DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB, is the director of the Secretariat of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin. Contact him at (512) 949-2471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.