As we approach the solemn holiday of “Black Friday,” I am reminded of a phone call I received just over two years ago. Having been ordained for a whopping three days, I received a frantic call one afternoon, from a bride seeking a “replacement” priest or deacon to preside at her wedding. After speaking with her and the parish office, I was informed that the priest scheduled to preside had fallen ill, and with her wedding falling on a late Saturday afternoon- when most parishes would be celebrating their Sunday Vigil Mass, I was the best bet. “Deacon- do you think you could preside at my wedding?” Of course, my answer was ‘yes.’
The setting for my first wedding was an Air Force military chapel- and in the opening remarks of my homily, I noted that the last time that I had visited the base was to attend an air show- before either the bride or groom were born. After some chuckling, I noted the many traffic and directional signs that I encountered on my drive to the base; each having a purpose, each not to be underestimated.
Recalling a dinner with some aspiring deacon friends, I noted that most deacons experience the Sacrament of Marriage and Holy Orders concurrently, and, as such, have some interesting perspectives of marriage captured in the form of signs…When angry—-SLOW DOWN; when children arrive—-SPEED BUMPS AHEAD; with the Empty Nest—-END OF ROAD CONSTRUCTION.
And while marriage is filled with signs, so too is our culture. With “Black Friday,” we are thrust into the Christmas season and told many things by our advertising friends: ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ or ‘If you love him, you’ll give him this or that.’ A few years ago, one of the best selling t-shirts had this emblazoned upon it: ‘The one who dies with the most toys wins.’ Yes, each day many signs are thrust upon us- all claiming to lead us to happiness. But sadly, most do not.
I reminded the congregation of the awesome signs present in that House of God: a beautiful bride, handsome groom, and a church filled with loving family and friends, many who had supported them from the time of their birth. Also, too, that the Church has provided us with a road map for discerning ‘real’ signs from ‘counterfeit’ signs- especially as they apply to love.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle references the word—love— some 14 times. Among other things, the great Apostle exhorts us to patience and kindness and warns us against seeking our self-interest and our own gain. Contrary to the culture, St. Paul warns us that we should not accumulate love- but rather, that we should give it all away- an odd sign in a world that stresses that more is better. And in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees for a sign that He has been heaven sent. “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” His response? “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Decalogue, Jesus instructs us that the first two are reserved to directly loving and worshipping God. In the final eight, He tells us that we should love God through our love of neighbor. It’s as if God is from Missouri—‘Show Me’ your love.
Perhaps this is the way we can discern ‘real’ love from ‘counterfeit’ love. Real love is about a gift of one’s self to another and counterfeit love is merely about giving to one’s self. Real love is not about bestowing upon another the gift of an object. Rather, it is about bestowing upon another the gift of one’s very presence. In our day, the late New York archbishop, John Cardinal O’Connor, embodied this type of ‘real’ love and offers it up to each of us as a model to imitate.
During his years in the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal O’Connor was active in many areas- from ministering to both the rich and down trodden, to preaching that it was important to live your faith in both politics and even on the baseball field. He would donate his Social Security benefits to a black scholarship fund and give blood to the Red Cross and ask others to “give” too. In the quiet of the night, he was known to visit AIDS patients at an archdiocesan hospital and could be found listening to them, cleaning their sores and changing their bedpans.
Today, it is that sort of ‘real’ love that we are called to. Whether we find ourselves in the Sacrament of Marriage, Holy Orders, or a different vocation, each of us is called to love, and to be a sign of ‘real’ love for others.