Deacon Blog Nov. 5, 2019
To Know, Love, and …
Serve. This past week I attended a funeral for one of our diocesan Deacons, Steve Escalera, who passed away from complications following an organ transplant. He was an awesome man and a Deacon his parish loved dearly. He was also one of my formation directors for the diaconate and I will miss his unique humor and deep spirituality. Steve was an educator by trade and his wife Laura has been the Director of Religious Education at Christ The King, Pueblo (their parish), for a long time. But it was something said during his service that has been prompting me in thought ever since. Bishop Berg, who is still recovering from his health scare (a couple weeks earlier), stood up at the end of the Mass to briefly speak to Steve’s family (and the rest of us) about how their husband-father-brother-friend, and Deacon served his church so faithfully and honorably for many years. At the end of his comments, Bishop Stephen reflected that Deacon Steven had dedicated his whole adult life to Know, Love, and Serve GOD… up to and throughout his illness. This is what I want to dissect a bit with you for it reveals a reality in a life of faith too often ignored. It speaks of the process necessary to form real intimacy in our discipleship.
St. Jerome is quoted as saying, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. I read this many years ago but have to admit my reflection didn’t go very deep. Obviously, the Father has revealed himself through sacred scripture, so learning and understanding GOD’s revelation (first spoken, then written) to HIS people is a key to beginning and forming a relationship with HIM. This activity is a lot like dating. This (St. Jerome’s) statement uncovers a reality unique to humanity. First, GOD is not human (and we are not GOD) and Two…being created in HIS image requires us to acquire knowledge before we are able to return love to HIM. But Catholic teaching tells us that our personal experiences also give us insight into this knowledge. If someone reads us a recipe for their favorite food, we may memorize it and be able to duplicate the dish, but we still have no idea if we like it unless we have another kind of experience…tasting. The old adage “Love at first sight” is more accurately stated “Attracted at first sight”. My wife might tell you that was her first mistake… just kidding. Certain characteristics can attract us, initially, but love certainly is not in play. It may be someone’s looks, laughter, the sound of their voice that gets our attention, but this certainly does not implore us to fully love, and definitely not to serve them. We need more information for this.
Loving GOD is a process of exploration and discovery. We must “Seek the LORD” where HE may be found, and uncover HIS personality, HIS ways, HIS infinite Love for us. Where can HE be found? Some might say in nature and the physical beauty around us. I’m not so sure. I definitely appreciate and am attracted to nature as the handiwork of GOD, but it only reveals what an “artist” HE is. Others might say they love GOD because of the blessings they’ve received in their life, but this is selfishness at its core. Again, I hear it said that only through relationships can GOD be found but this relies primarily on experiential contact and excludes GOD’s revealed word in scripture. As St. Jerome says, we must know GOD in all the ways HE has revealed himself. Sacred Scripture is our starting point. We can read it alone (hopefully with a bible commentary) and feel some connection. We can hear it at Mass and have it “un-packed” in a homily or reflection, and we can receive it in a bible study, but all of these are pieces of a bigger effort to know who GOD is and to discern His will. All these actions are “moving parts” in a life divinely engineered to guide our hearts and minds into the most intimate of relationships. Where we belong. This IS the purpose and work of HIS Church. Within the framework of the Sacraments, our Church introduces us first to GOD (through baptism), teaches us of HIS ways through catechesis, and then finally, shows us how to serve our Heavenly Father uniquely according to our creation. At the very center of our relationship with the Father should be our surrender to HIM. Our world wants to define and steer our identities toward an earthly vision, which makes sense if this life was all there is. Only in this perspective does abortion and human self-indulgence make sense. If, however, we are a people Redeemed, then our final destination and the journey to get us there requires an awareness of something not of our doing. Namely…the Will of GOD. To put a finer point on this, before we can serve GOD effectively, we must know HIM, and we must love HIM. We can’t give what (love) we do not possess first.
All of this is contained in Jesus’ greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and your neighbor as yourself”. The Church’s work is to facilitate the conversion of our hearts. Not to do it themselves but to “make straight the way of the Lord” for us. The heavy lifting is ours to pick up… namely the conversion of our hearts from this world to the heavenly one. A belief in Jesus manifested in our behavior. We could live in a library and not be able to read a single word, and yet…it is all at our finger-tips. So is GOD’s love all around us. Our eyes need only to “see” LOVE.
Deacon Steve’s life was this very effort. He sought knowledge of GOD to recognize HIM, he immersed himself in prayer to understand this knowledge, and he responded in faith to serve a GOD who loved him first. As sad as it was to say goodbye, it was uplifting to see his family confident in Steve’s reward and the incredible support given to them by their parish family and the clergy who came to honor his life. His life was not extraordinary, except for the integrity and clarity with which he lived. He was a school- teacher his whole career…saving his best lessons for us through his death. Many of his protégé were in attendance, living testimonies of his personal service to GOD. This funeral has profoundly affected my thinking, reminding me that it should be all about GOD for us…just as it is all about Us for GOD.
PAX CHRISTI, Deacon Mike
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