Do you love me?

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 07 June 2019
Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Jesuits’ Sacred Heart Retreat House and Seminar Center, Novaliches, Quezon City. Photo by author, July 2018.

It is perhaps the most disarming question of all.

And too often, before answering the question, we try to brush it aside or even belittle it because we always feel the answer is very obvious and yet, it hits us so hard deep within that we could not answer it right away because it demands honesty and sincerity.

Do you love me?

Whether you are a priest or a religious or a layperson, much of the difficulty in answering this question lies on the fact that too often, it comes to us in those moments we have sinned to a loved one. When we were unfaithful and have not loved much as expected.

It was the context when Jesus asked Simon Peter three times “Do you love me?” after their breakfast at the shore of Lake Tiberias three weeks after Easter. Simon knew it so well that he felt sad after the third question of the Lord because it referred to his three denials of Jesus on Holy Thursday evening outside the residence of the chief priest. He must have heard the cock crowing again at that instance.

Church of Gallicantu (Rooster), the site where St. Peter denied the Lord thrice. Photo by author, April 2017.

I realized only last year as a guest spiritual director to our seminarians at the Theologate that our main problem as priests is when we get so focused with our vocation which is the priesthood, forgetting its very essence, Jesus Christ.

It is the Caller, not the call!

When we priests forget Jesus, even if we are so centered even obsessed with priesthood, problems arise. It is a misplaced priority. The call gets into our bloated egos that eventually deteriorate into careerism among us priests that we compete and complain a lot in our assignments. No more ministry because everything comes with a fee. Pains and sufferings have become costs of discipleship and not life.

Eventually, we end up being gods and kings, even larger than the Lord himself in our parishes or particular assignment. We become the standard of everything because we are all-knowing, so great at building churches and other structures, establishing every organization while consciously or unconsciously building cults around our very selves that in the process, we have evicted Jesus Christ completely from our hearts and the parish itself!

The same is true with couples. The husband and wife forget each other, getting focused more with married life and children until eventually, they just drifted apart, becoming strangers to each other and lose all love. This is most evident when couples enter into a sort of spiritual divorce, when they are “so far away” from each other though they still live together “for the sake of the children” or, as we always hear, “alang-alang sa mga bata.”

Love makes us see Jesus in himself and in others too.

In St. John’s account of the third appearance of the risen Lord to the seven apostles who have gone fishing at Lake Tiberias that Sunday morning, no one among them recognized him except the beloved disciple because he was the only one who remained loving Jesus.

When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus… who said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”

John 21:4,6-7
Appearance of the Risen Lord at Lake Tiberias. From Google.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recently answered some questions given to him for an interview before the Holy Week. When asked about the festering problem of sex scandal in the Church, he said that is a sign of how we priests have entirely forgotten Jesus Christ, especially to pray to him at the Blessed Sacrament.

That is very true. Jesus could no longer be seen among us, in our person, in our actions, in our way of living, and most especially in our churches that have become so empty of God and so filled of our selves.

We have forgotten the fact that before we were ordained priests, there was Jesus Christ first. We converse with him less in prayer because priesthood demands so much of our time and energy like a profession or a job. Slowly, Jesus is nowhere to be found in us and in our parishes. And that is when we also start to get lost as priests, eaten up by materialism and fame.

The same is true with couples who forget after several years of living together that before they were married, there was also Jesus Christ first in each other. When children start coming, more concerns are shifted on the couple’s career in order to earn more and live comfortably. Couples then forget each other, even their very selves who end up married with their jobs or profession. Eventually, they part ways because they could no longer see each other.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Do your work with more love.

The difficulty in answering the question “do you love me?” is found in the way we do our work, when we just see tasks. No love, no person.

Whatever we do in life, we have to do it with more love because when we love, we remain attached with persons not with things. When we do thing with more love, we have direction because we think of persons, not just goals. When we do things with more love, we see persons because only another person can love, not things. See how Jesus told the crowd who have come with him to the wilderness to pray to the Master to send more laborers to work on the great harvest (Mt.9:38). He did not instruct them and us to pray for more money, more food and clothing because what we really need is love. Only people can love.

Jesus Christ did everything in love, filled with love. That is why he is so gentle and merciful with us sinners. In his love, he sees more the person being defaced by sins and evil, pains and sufferings. And that is why he died on the Cross, the ultimate expression of doing everything in love.

The next time you want to prove your love to anyone, do your work with love, no matter how imperfect your love is. Jesus will fill in the rest because you are so loved.

Live in the love of Christ.

If you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by God;

if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.

Author unknown

	

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