The following homily was given by Bishop Paul S. Loverde on March 6 during the Annual Eighth-Graders' Vocations Mass at Holy Spirit Parish in Annandale.
Recently, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to the youth of the world. Since you are young, this message is also addressed to you. Listen to these words from the Pope: "My dear young friends, I want to invite you to ‘dare to love.' Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love."
Now, it is essential for us to understand what "love" means when the Pope invites us to "dare to love." Love is much more than a feeling or even an emotion; genuine love is a decision to seek the total good or welfare of another person. When I truly love, I want what is really good for another or for myself. So, if what I say or do does not really help the other person or myself in body, mind and soul, then true love is not being given or lived. "Dare to love" means that we dare to seek the total good of others, including their spiritual good.
Yes, "dare to love." How? By giving ourselves to God and to others. Recall what Jesus told us: we must love God above all and love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the two-fold commandment of love. This is why Pope Benedict XVI reminds you — all of us — to desire nothing less than a love which makes us able to give ourselves "as a gift to God and [our] brothers and sisters" in imitation of Jesus Who conquered hatred and death precisely through love.
Whatever God asks you to be and to do in your future life — in the vocation He wills for you — love lies at its center. This is true in the vocations of marriage, the single life lived chastely for the sake of others, the consecrated life of a religious brother or sister and the ordained priesthood.
Today, you have gathered in this church as eighth graders from our Catholic schools across the diocese. Today, our focus is on two different yet related vocations which God gives: the ordained priesthood and the consecrated life of a religious sister or brother. I repeat, in these two vocations, love is likewise at the center.
Pope Benedict XVI invites us to "dare to love." Who did this the best of all, who did this completely and perfectly? Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! He dared to love even to giving up His life for our salvation. Jesus came to unite once again God, His Father and ours, with all the members of the human family. Jesus came to reconcile mankind with God. How? By dying on the Cross and by rising on the third day, and by founding the Church where the Gospel of His love would be proclaimed and lived. This is what Saint Paul was telling us in today's second reading from his second Letter to the Corinthians. "He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. And all this is from God, Who has reconciled us to himself through Christ."
The love which Christ dared to live must continue to be proclaimed, celebrated and lived. How? God chooses messengers — St. Paul called them "ambassadors for Christ." These ambassadors include in very special ways priests and consecrated religious men and women. Priests act in the Person of Christ Himself, the Head, Shepherd and Spouse of the Church, revealing Christ's love by teaching, sanctifying and leading God's People. Think of the priest preaching, teaching, celebrating the sacraments, counseling, and preparing people for living the Christian life: all these are an expression of true love, a true seeking the total good of others. Consecrated religious brothers and sisters make present in a visible way Christ the Chaste One, Christ the Poor One, Christ the Obedient One as they go about teaching or assisting the sick, the poor and the elderly, helping out in the parish or in special apostolates. They too seek the total good of others; they too truly love.
God never stops inviting people to be the ambassadors of Christ's love. He has in mind every single person He is calling to become a priest or a religious sister or brother. We heard in today's first reading how Isaiah was called to be God's prophet: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?' ‘Here I am,' I said, ‘send me!'"
Yes, Isaiah said "yes." In today's gospel account from Saint Mark, we see Jesus inviting the young man to follow Him completely. "You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor; then, come, follow me." Unlike Isaiah, this young man did not accept Jesus' invitation. "At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions." Oh, it is not easy to follow Christ's call, but hear again what Jesus told the first disciples, "For men it is not possible, but not for God. All things are possible for God."
The late Pope John Paul II repeatedly told us that when each person is created, God gives that person his or her own individual unique life-project or vocation. I do not know which ones of you are actually being invited by the Lord to become a priest or a religious sister or brother. But, I am absolutely convinced that some of you right here are being invited to serve in the Church as a priest, a religious sister or a religious brother. Listen to your heart, pray to the Lord for His guidance and consult wise persons. Do not go away sad because you would say "no" to God. Rather, say "yes" — a joyous, generous and willing "yes" to the Lord. Say "yes" and "dare to love!"