Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Father Michael F.X. Hinkley

Everyone wants to be loved. Throughout the ages, every person who has ever lived has thirsted and hungered for personal love. This is a human longing that can’t be fulfilled by the material or the superficial; its fulfillment demands that the individual person be appreciated as someone special with great intrinsic value.

The premise of the Church is that this desire for love ultimately leads a person into a relationship with God and, in turn, manifests in the realization of authentic human fulfillment. Consider the gleeful expression, "I fell in love," or the opposite, "I fell out of love." They seem to more describe a pothole than true love. I’ve never met a couple who, on their wedding day, wouldn’t claim that God somehow brought them together as husband and wife. They know well that loving this special person is more than just a personal choice or whim. A well-prepared couple can understand that God has brought them together as a couple enjoying a relationship with one another, the world around them and God himself.

Each believer has a different way of expressing his or her personal relationship with God. There are no cookie cutters when it comes to the relationship of the disciple to Christ. In the Scriptures, we can take heart in seeing that each disciple of the Lord was called into a particular vocation by means of an invitation that reflected the individual’s temperament and character. For example, Peter was a fisherman called to become a "fisher of men" and he answered the call with his characteristic enthusiasm, dropping everything to follow (Mt 4:18-22). Christ’s ministry begins in a manner in keeping with and with respect to who Peter is as a person: a person who enjoys a characteristically unique relationship with God.

For the person who stumbles in his or her pursuit of love, or feels distant from and even forgotten by God, the problem becomes where one goes for love. Many smile when I refer to the song of a few years ago, "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places." But there is a real truth to be found there – if God isn’t the font of your love, where are you? Pastorally, in this situation, we need somehow to affirm the person and redirect him or her toward God.

Years ago, a wise spiritual director provided an effective means of renewing one’s relationship with God. He explained that for people to follow Christ sincerely, they must meet and be motivated by the unconditional love of God. Instead of cowering at the thought of one’s sin and shame, this insight calls for the believer to be ennobled by the truth of God’s outpouring of merciful love. In other words, the Christian must, as a uniquely gifted individual, know God as a loving and caring Father. The believer comes to know himself or herself as overwhelmed by the joy of being loved. Here one’s heart fills with the lovely refrain: "My heavenly Father is very fond of me!"

Prayerfully considering one’s own conception and life can serve as a great starting point. Once the individual realizes, in the depths of his or her heart, that God chose him or her and desired for this particular person to enjoy unique gifts, the individual comes to experience a deep and abiding love with its source in God. When a person forms the foundation of his or her identity in the understanding that there was a moment in time when he or she was marvelously and wonderfully created out of God’s love, life is endowed with the knowledge of being loved. A familiar Scripture passage teaches us that God not only created me in my mother’s womb, but knew and loved me even then: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jer 1:5).

God’s love outweighs the dark burdens a sinner places on his or her own shoulders. The believer discovers that love is not negated by personal sins and failings. In fact, now, in this context, the sacrament of reconciliation becomes an engaging interpersonal celebration of God’s great merciful love for the disciple. If God cares for me and holds a warm and fond love for me, then when I turn to consider either my gifts or failings, I do so with a particular life-changing grace: "I am loved for who I am."

Father Hinkley is Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and the Shrine of St. Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury. He holds degrees in spirituality, marriage and family development and moral theology.