Love First

I am currently reading a book about Boundaries that threw me for a loop and shut me down a little bit. I started to believe that maybe everything I ever said was wrong and everything I have ever believed is ridiculous. It discusses that it is ok to set boundaries and say “this is ok” or “this is not ok.” Some of the ways they talked about it made me feel like maybe I don’t believe in truth and everything everyone has said about me being a relativist is right. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. The conclusion I have come to for now is that I do believe that there is truth. I do believe that there I can know the truth and set boundaries. However, I don’t believe that I know all of the truth, and I believe that truth is better shared when love has created a foundation first.

I grew up in a community that was so focused on rules that everyone hated everyone. The adults were all constantly gossiping about and criticizing each other. It was ridiculous. Our priest was the worst of all of them. He gossiped about everyone and had something awful to say about everyone at one point or another. Before that priest, there was this meek, quiet priest who terrified altar boys behind the scenes. He had them trained so intensely that I saw an altar boy wet his pants so he wouldn’t get in trouble for leaving the altar. Even before that, we went to a Church that literally threw people out if they didn’t do exactly what the priests wanted them to do. In fact, a good family friend even broke off his engagement just on their say so. Obviously, my experience of the Catholic Church has been less than positive to say the least.

In college, I got to experience something completely different.

I went to Ave Maria University, and Father Colum and Father Henry terrified me. They were different than anything I had ever seen before. I avoided their Mass because it was the praise and worship Mass, and I had been raised to believe that was evil. One time I went to confession to Father Colum and he yelled at me and I thought he was a monster.

One day, I let my friends convince me to attend a silent retreat with the nuns associated with Father Colum and Father Henry’s order. Every day I am so grateful that I did that. Father Henry gave a beautiful meditation on the baby Jesus and His love for us. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I will never forget that moment, in adoration with a tiny monstrance in front of us, listening to his calming voice tell us how incredibly loved we are.

It changed everything for me.

He talked about a God who made Himself a baby because He wanted us to see that He loved us and accepted us. For the first time in my life, I felt completely and truly accepted. He thought I was wonderful and amazing and beautiful. I cried so. many. happy. tears. that weekend.

Later, I started going to the praise and worship Mass and discovered it was nothing like what I had heard about. It was reverent and beautiful and full of love for God. Rarely did Father Colum or Father Henry talk about rules or what Catholics do or do not have to do in their sermons. They did do it occasionally, but very rarely, and only when it was a public issue for a reason. (For Ave students-the pie eating contest 😉 and the once yearly porn sermon of course.) They spoke about scripture and who Jesus was. They broke down epistles and gospels and explained what they mean for our relationship to God. It seemed like every time I was overwhelmed or stressed, they had exactly the words I needed to hear.

Over time, I spent more time with them, and I learned so much. Their ability to love others unconditionally was something I still treasure. One of the most powerful moments in my understanding of spirituality was when Father Henry who I had never heard condemn a single person for how they acted sexually, or judge anyone for being inappropriate, told me and my boyfriend that he wore the black cassock in Florida because he wanted to offer up the suffering for anyone who struggles with impurity. He didn’t say this in any manipulative way, we asked him about it. It was a completely genuine admission of an act of love he does for others. He didn’t even assign blame to anyone, or a type of act, just impurity.

Father Colum ironically became a safe place for me. He heard me out on things that no one else would, and took the time to guide me spiritually on them. When we studied James Joyce in school, everyone hated him and talked about how evil he was, but Father Colum heard me out on my staunch belief that Joyce’s devotion to God is still present in his work, and in fact, he wrote a book about it, that I am slowly attempting to read right now.

When Father Colum and Father Henry talked about “rules,” it was always from a place of understanding God’s love for us. Rules were not made up to make us suffer, they were not arbitrary. They were help given to us by a God who loves us to help us in a hard crazy world. They didn’t throw rules around at people who had no reason to follow them, they gave love, and then when we needed help with making good decisions we asked them.

I learned so much from them, but the point of this particular post is that all I needed all my life was to hear over and over and over again who God is. There are a thousand voices that say He hates us, and all the reasons why He will condemn us, but that’s not who He is. When I say that love is most important, I am not saying that truth doesn’t matter, but the truth is different if Love is first. Every rule that the Church gives is different if love is behind it. The way we argue, the way we talk, the way we teach, is different if love is behind it.

Over and over again I have had authorities in the Church argue with me about this. A famous archbishop shut me down at a talk about why millenials are leaving the Church(I was thinking about leaving the Church and I am a millenial,) a nun who barely knew me blew me off. Over and over again I have reassessed and questioned myself about this. Our faith is meant to be a deeper relationship with Christ. Christ was radically loving to the point of making people angry. Yes, we need to speak the truth. Yes, we need to believe in truth. No, it is not more important than Love. The Church will not heal until it starts being about radical Love again, and only giving the truth after that.

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