Bishop Hying

Life’s journey calls us to self-surrender in light of the transforming love of God

      During a retreat I was on years ago, the director posed the question: is it harder to love God or be loved by God? At the time, I thought it’s harder to love God because of all the effort it takes to be holy, prayerful, virtuous and focused. As the years of my life have flown by, however, I now think it is harder to be loved by God. To let God love me demands a surrender, a docility and a humility. It also means that I am challenged to see myself as loveable, no easy feat.

      In my years of priestly ministry, I have discovered that many people do not really love themselves or even like who they see in the mirror. On some levels this fact makes sense. No one knows us as we know ourselves; no one else sees all of my temptations, bad thoughts, sins and messiness as I do. To live with myself my whole life is at times a tremendous burden.

      Is this struggle part of the original flaw of original sin, when Adam and Eve mistakenly thought that eating the forbidden fruit would make their lives happier and more fulfilling, when actually everything was already perfect in the first place? In many ways, it is easier to stay in my fortress of aloneness, walled off from the love of God and others because then I do not have to wrestle with my sense of unworthiness, shame and guilt.

      The joyful news of our faith is that God finds us loveable, even irresistible! In the person of Jesus Christ, He comes in passionate pursuit of us, seeking to attract and draw us into the sacred marriage bond between Jesus and the Church. When we surrender to this divine initiative, we discover our lives to be a sacred romance, a passionate love relationship that spills out into everyone and everything we encounter. 

      When people are in love, they glow. They long to be with their beloved, offer extravagant gifts, suffer inconvenience and embrace sacrifice, all in order to demonstrate the love in their hearts. All of that passionate purpose can be unleashed in us when we truly experience in our heads and hearts the unconditional, infinite, fiery and eternal love of God. As the saying goes, “God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it!”

      When I took a promise of celibacy as a transitional deacon in 1988, I, at least, had enough insight to grasp that a lifetime of experience would be required for me to truly understand what such a commitment actually means.

      Celibacy is more than a simple renunciation of marriage and family or even exclusive friendships; it is the opposite of shutting love out of life. Rather, celibacy requires a generous, open and sacrificial stance of love to all people, an availability to the beauty, suffering and needs of everyone. Coming to gradually allow God’s love deeper into my life has freed me to live this celibate stance with greater understanding and purpose, knowing that the divine love of the Lord is the only reality that will satisfy the restless longings and desires of my human heart. Letting myself be loved by God, nourished by the Eucharist, forgiven of my sins and called to His holy purpose liberates me to love others without conditions, possessiveness or expectations. By no means have I arrived at perfection, but with the passage of years, I feel less need for affirmation, attention and affection from others. God gradually becomes enough for us.

      The reflections offered here on celibacy apply to all of us in different ways, whether married, single or widowed. By virtue of our life in Christ, baptized as beloved children of the Father, we all have the same journey to make, the path of self-surrender whereby we open ourselves in freedom and humility to the transforming love of God.

      The first step, to which we must return again and again, is allowing God to love us, letting Him break through our walls of shame, guilt and self-loathing. This spiritual breakthrough frees us to love parents, children, spouses, family, parishioners, friends and strangers without conditions, limits or expectation.  Another way to phrase the initial question: is it harder to let the priest wash your feet on Holy Thursday or to wash the feet of another? As Christians, we are called to both!

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