Day Seven: No Greater Love - {For the Love of the Church}

Sunday, October 23, 2016

This week I'm running a series, For the Love of the Church, written by my friend Jacob Boddicker, SJ.
Jacob is a Jesuit scholastic originally from Iowa, and is currently studying at the Jesuit School of Theology in preparation for ordination. He has an academic background in archaeology, history, and philosophy, and his interests include music, science fiction/fantasy, and writing.
Make sure to check out: 

During the summer after my time at Marquette High, two experiences of prayer—one during my annual retreat and another while on the road with the Hearts on Fire Mission Band—made it clear to me that Jesus was wanting to work on my heart a bit regarding my love for His Bride.

While in Milwaukee I saw a beautiful, youthful, Church, and I worshiped in a parish that offered a sumptuous Mass; especially when it came to music. I was, in a way, spoiled. I wasn’t seeking it out, nor was I choosing it over any other parish or way of worship on any sort of principal, but it was what I found and what I came to cherish. I knew as much about California and the Church there as I knew about thermodynamics, but I did know I was going to miss the Church as I knew her there in Wisconsin.

My first experience of prayer, in brief, came through the aid of St. Gemma Galgani (for those who know me, this comes as no surprise). She helped me to recall that she, having given herself entirely to Christ, was His Bride, and so was the Church. If I could love St. Gemma and find her beautiful and inspiring, even in the moments of her life when she was devastated by illness and infirmity, then I must also love the Church, no matter how she is when I encounter her. I of course knew this, and I asked Gemma to always help me to do that. My second experience of prayer is deeply personal, but suffice it to say I knew Jesus was inviting me to share, in a way, in His own suffering, for love of the Church. I have always trusted Him, and of course I said yes.

The summer ended and I came to Milwaukee, and soon I realized the importance of those graces. Things are very different out here; the Bay Area is much more diverse in its cultures and beliefs, such that Christianity—much less Catholic Christianity—is not as dominant. It also strikes me, in many ways, as simply a more secular culture. There is a budding young adult effort here that I think, in time, will really take off, and I’ve met some wonderful young men and women who are working hard to build it up, but I found myself already missing the opportunities I had back in Milwaukee.

Church architecture out here is not, at least at your average parish, what it is in many places in Milwaukee! I did not realize how much I would miss the great dome of the basilica and the artwork all around; the stark walls and track lighting of our school chapel was very, very difficult to get used to. There was no choir as I was used to, no quiet church to arrive at early to pray the rosary while the choir warmed up; none of my friends were there to surround me as they arrived one-by-one to pray and then chat after Mass. There were no more Confirmation classes to teach, no more lessons to prepare for my high school students; I was a stranger again.

Gradually I realized how attached I had become to all these beautiful gifts, enough that I was unable to accept the more subtle but equally good gifts the Church was able to offer me here in Berkeley. When a priest would take a liberty in his style of celebration that I disagreed with or—worse—I knew was wrong, I found I had two options before me: I could get angry and let that set its claws in my heart and cloud out any possible good that Christ wanted to give me, or I could concern myself more with the fact that if there was, indeed, an offense against the truth, then I have an opportunity to be with Christ in that moment.

In other words, Jesus was trying to teach me to love the Church unconditionally: to love the Church as He loves her.

St. Isaac Jogues All Saints Day costume
I realized this past summer that I would be very upset with a man who tells his wife what to wear to please him, and to demand that she dress primarily for this purpose, if his love for her hinged on such outward, material things. How would I be any better than such a man if I, in my own heart, were to expect similar things of the Church? If I were to say, “Bride of Christ, I would love you more if you offered me a Mass more like this, or sang this kind of music, or had a congregation made up of this type of people, etc.” I was reminded on retreat that a priest ought to love the Bride of Christ because she is the Bride of Christ. Period. My beloved Church is taking her time during these years of theology study to remind me that I’m not the one she seeks to please! Rather, I ought to love her and count myself more honored—in this regard—than even the highest angels because I have been asked by Jesus to be a Joseph to His Bride; no angel has ever been asked such a thing, and the Church is absolutely worthy of my complete, unconditional love because it is the kind of love CHRIST has for her.

In a sense, I suppose, the Church has been seeing if I really mean “in sickness and in health,” even unto death, so that when I am lying face down on her concrete floor at my deacon ordination in October, I am sufficiently dead to my own preconceptions, preferences, and attachments that I’m not in the way of the One who wishes to love her through me, as His minster. “Jacob, do you love me,” she asks, “even if I am wearing sweat pants and Crocs? Do you love me even when I carelessly prepare the Lamb’s Supper? Will you love me even if I seem lazy, or too worldly, or even if it seems like I disregard the Magisterium, or if you perceive me as deficient in any other way? Would you still love me? Would you still lay down your life for me?”

It is easier now to say “yes” since I am so close to ordination, but it was very hard my first year here. But she’s waited this long; a few months is nothing. I love her, no matter what, because she’s the Bride of Christ, and that is all I need to know. She has always taken me back; how could I ever turn my heart away from her? As I let go of my stone-set image of what I wanted her to look like, the Church was able to show me just how magnificent she really is. She’s an incredible fashionista, able to take even the simplest things and still show me her beauty and goodness. I’ve met wonderful people out here whom I’d never have met had I continued a desperate search for people like those I left in the Midwest. I now serve in a parish that is as vibrant and alive as a greenhouse full of blossoming flowers. The last two years have been challenging, but I can see—as can others, I’m sure—just how much I’ve grown and how Jesus and the Church have continually shaped my heart into the heart He desires and the Church really needs: a heart that can lay itself down for her sake, a heart that is able to die to itself for love of her.

She is, after all, the Bride of Christ, who died for her. If every priest is a Joseph, is a spouse of sorts to the Bride, then we have to follow His example, He who “loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

And yesterday he DID say yes! I watched Jacob, along with other close friends, become ordained to the diaconate yesterday. I'm so immensely proud of all of them!

And here's My Sunday Best with David Paternostro, S.J. After his first two masses serving as deacon!

1 comment :

  1. Such a beautiful reflection! The sweatpants analogy is perfect :) Congratulations to all!!


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