Let Us Begin

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today.

For What Do You Wish?: {Bishop Olmsted’s Exhortation to Love}

on July 30, 2012

I have been wanting to share an exhortation to love proclaimed by our faithful shepherd, Bishop Olmsted, for some time…

Have you ever had the experience of sitting in the pews and feeling that every word proclaimed from the pulpit was meant just for you, that God was speaking directly to your heart through His preacher to convict your innermost being once again of the call to follow Him, the rest of the congregation surrounding you in that place of worship fading into the background as Jesus’ voice cut through all of the other voices in this world in a way that left no more room for doubt or confusion?

That is pretty much what happened at the “annual natural family planning mass of appreciation” here in the diocese of Phoenix this past February.  (I have been meaning to share it ever since)

You see, Johnny and I had just barely learned of Baby Girl’s existence little over a week before and were actively discerning the “yes” we knew God was asking of us even as fears and so many unknowns unrelentingly swirled within and around our restless minds.

Our hearts were encouraged by our bishop in such a profound and necessary way to give us strength for the journey that would lie ahead of us… (even more than we could have possibly known at the time).

 

These were (in part) his words to us:

 

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

The key word here is “wishes.”

For what do we wish?

What is that our heart desires?

Encountering Christ is a gift, a gift beyond all other gifts, a gift that we do not deserve or initiate. And it is a gift that meets the deepest desires of our soul. Whoever wishes to come after Christ wishes to follow where these holy desires naturally lead.

Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, says of this personal desire to belong to Christ:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart… (emphasis mine)

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas est (God is Love), Pope Benedict writes that to believe in the love of God is: “the fundamental decision of one’s life.”  Becoming a follower of Christ “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Let us return now to Jesus’ words:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

Whoever wishes to respond to the love of Christ must, in other words, learn the value of suffering, especially suffering for the sake of our Beloved, the Bridegroom of the Church, the Lord Jesus.

Pope Benedict has reminded us of this on a number of occasions, especially in his encyclical on hope (#37):

“It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness that we drift into a life of emptiness…

It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love”

Jesus says: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?”

The Greek word for “save” literally means “to keep safe and whole”– precisely the opposite of what Jesus Himself did. He who, from all eternity, was completely safe from suffering took flesh from the Virgin Mary in order to be able to suffer, even to suffer death on the Cross. Christ chose to become like a grain of wheat, which must fall into the ground and die in order to bear fruit. He chose not to save His life but give it for us in love.

C. S. Lewis, in THE FOUR LOVES, p. 169, writes:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements, lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

It is not safe to follow Christ. It is not safe to get married. It is not safe to become mother or father …It is not safe to love in truth and to speak the truth in love. It is not safe to follow the way of Christ rather than the way of the world; but it is the blessing above all others.

St. Paul tells us (Rom 12:1-2”, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.” 

 

Whew… thank you Bishop Olmsted.

I don’t think Johnny and I stopped squeezing each other’s hands the entire time our beloved bishop spoke.

We would go back to that homily, absorbing the transcript he so generously shared with us many times in the weeks that followed … We read and reread quotes to one another as the conviction of their truth applied to the situation we found ourselves in caused tears to stream down our faces and for us to look at one another saying,

 

“how could we possibly say no?”

 

Surely the path ahead of us was clear.

It wasn’t safe, but it was good … “the blessing above all others”.

 

Fast forward five months and in light of all that has transpired since we became Seraphia’s parents for a week…

I find it pretty incredible and beautifully ironic that the very same words that gave us the courage we needed to say “yes” to loving Seraphia as our own now give us the strength we need to face each day without her…

I am reminded once again that

“to love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly be broken”

I think of the prayers I have sung along with Hillsong on the radio for the Lord to

“Break my heart for what breaks Yours…Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause”

and can’t help but know in a deeper way than ever before how true Fr. Arrupe’s words are that the decision I made so long ago and renew daily to give my life to Christ – “to fall in love, to stay in love” with Jesus … has in fact “decided everything”… It is the “fundamental decision of my life” and has decisively pointed me in the direction to arrive exactly where I am today.

 

which brings me back to our good bishop’s opening question:

 

For what do you wish? … What is it that your heart desires”

 

and as much as a part of me wishes it didn’t have to be this way …

that my heart didn’t have to suffer the loss of yet another child.

 

When I think of the alternative…

of never having loved Seraphia

 

I would much rather have a living, breathing, beating heart (broken though it may be) that knows Ardent Charity

than one kept so “safe” by “withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt” that it becomes incapable of it …

 

Because this pain is a testimony to the fact that I am ALIVE…

 

and so is she.

 

 

-Alison


6 Responses to “For What Do You Wish?: {Bishop Olmsted’s Exhortation to Love}”

  1. Erin says:

    This is Beautiful!~

  2. Alissa says:

    Thank you for sharing this Ali, just a great challenge. Feel so blessed to be in this diocese as well with our Bishop Olmsted as our Shepard.

  3. Laura Robezzoli says:

    So very beautiful! I love you so much! Mom

  4. Katie says:

    Beautiful post and beautiful homily! The Four Loves is one of my favorite books and the quote the Bishop shared from it is one of those quotes that has stayed with me ever since I read that book so many years ago. It reminds me to truly love is to allow yourself to love and give so deeply that your heart may be broken. Such a small thing compared to the deep love that Christ has for us. Not only was His heart broken, but He was totally broken for us.

  5. Katie says:

    By the way, can you post the link to the full transcript of the homily?

  6. MaryAnne says:

    Thank you, Alison. I am going through something that’s very, very painful and extremely confusing (that’s actually an understatement). The words of Bishop Olmsted are amazing & I am going to bookmark this page & read it everyday. I love the song you referenced & cry everytime I sing along with it on the radio, because it strikes directly into the depths of my heard & soul. You’re right about ardent charity, so I thank you, too, for those words (even though I feel like I will never be rid of this utter confusion). I have always admired your deep love & trust in Jesus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>