1. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). In 1988, I became the Band Director of a little town in Central Texas. The largest single group in the band were the Catholics, only a few of them actually went to Mass or received instruction. I began to see how much that community needed evangelization. There were so many people who hungered for God, but did not know where to turn. Or they turned to the wrong places. There was an abundant harvest, but not enough people who could bring it in.
2. Now the need is even greater. Our diocese has 5 times as many Catholics as it did back in 1988. Many people are so in need of a spiritual father- and not just Catholics. It is our duty to pray for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate, and the religious life every day of our lives. Of course, we must do more than simply pray about it, although that is most important. We must open our families to hear the call of God to enter into the work. And for those who are young, you must open your ears and hearts to hear and then say yes to God.
3. I know that to hear God’s call and say yes can be scary. Those many years ago, after I realized how much more my students needed a priest than a band director, God started to call me and I did not really want to hear it. Priesthood was not what I intended to do with my life, and I was afraid. I believe fear holds many people back from at least trying out the path of a religious vocation. What people may fear the most is loneliness or not being loved. Back then I knew that fear. I had wanted to get married, but was not very successful in my social life. I became afraid that no one would ever love me. It not just from the point of view of romantic love. I had bounced around from school to school for ten years, not finding my place anywhere. I wondered if I would ever belong. Thanks be to God, I have found my place as a priest. (To be honest, as a priest I have never been lonely).
4. My point in telling this story is that the question "will I be loved" or "do you love me" is really important to each one of us. As human beings we are social creatures. We all have a real need to be loved and accepted unconditionally just because we exist. Many young people hook up with totally inappropriate mates and many other people jump from one relationship to another all because they are seeking an answer to the question of whether or not they are loved. Although we could look at this question in human terms, in my opinion, this question is not merely a human question. It is also a Divine one. That is, we get this question from God Himself.
5. God has created us human beings for Himself. He has given us the freedom to love Him or not to love Him. Other beings, like mountains and rivers, stars and moons, even plants and other animals do not really have the capacity to reject their Creator, and so they do not have the capacity to love their Creator as we do. Although God is an eternal communion of love- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- because He has made us for love, He wants to know if we love Him as well.
6. And so do you love God? Honestly, I already know what you are likely to say. Everyone who I have asked has said yes. But of course God is not interested in just words any more than we are. The Lord wants actions, He wants proof. And God will test our love.
7. How do we prove our love for God? The first step is to get rid of our sins, that we can do God’s will. And in the course of this battle against evil, our Lord will give us lots of help. For example, He gives us the Sacrament of Confession by which sin and guilt is removed from the penitent. The Lord also gives us consolation in prayer. Consolation in prayer is when we experience contentment and peace in prayer, the feeling that God is listening, maybe even quick answers. In these various manners, the Lord encourages us in our fight against evil.
8. But the time will come when the Lord will remove these consolations. Even though we may have gained victory over most of our sins, He will withdraw many of the blessings which we have become accustomed to receiving. Prayer will become dry, difficult, and confusing. We will wonder what is going on. What is going on is that God is testing us. He wants to know if we love Him, or the blessings which He has given us. To understand, we could ask: do you love the ring on your finger, or the one who gave it to you?
9. If we remain faithful and true through this testing, the Lord will lead us to a deeper knowledge of Him which will seem sort of like we are in a cloud. God will continue to lead us through suffering and loss to a point in which we will not even want to choose sin. In our willingness to lose everything but our Lord, our hearts will be conformed to His love totally. This love is what God wants most of all from us.
10. Saint John said: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). And God’s love is much greater than our own. We should love God because He is perfect in every way and totally deserving of our love. But God loves us even more because as Saint Paul says that Christ died for us when we were totally unworthy.
11. Do you love me? Many of us try to test God’s love. Sometimes we make conditions on whether or not we will believe. God if you love me, you will give me this or that. But the Lord has already proven His love, in the death and resurrection of His Son for our Salvation. And nothing we can do will make God stop loving us. We could reject it, or refuse to love Him back, but we cannot make God stop.
12. Knowing that God loves us so much, what will be our response to His commands? Will we confidently ask for His help in getting more vocations to the priesthood, and even more volunteers for the ministries of the parish? Will we open our ears and hearts to receive His call if His answer is to send us? Will we encourage our children and those around us to serve God first, and themselves second? In the first reading, God showed His desire to make us a kingdom of priests to serve Him and offer ourselves to Him. Could we be even more than that? Will we be a kingdom of lovers of God?