In our second reading today our Lord through the writing of St. Paul is telling us what is essential for life, for your life, for my life, and for every life to flourish: it’s love. Love is needed for every life to flourish. Matthew Kelly in his book, Rediscovering Catholicism writes that, “There are two simple truths: people are made to be loved and things are made to be used. But too often we get it backwards where we love things and we use people.” And we end up with a culture where human dignity is degraded over and over and over, whether through abortion, or pornography, or neglect of the poor, or the plight of those in places of the world where the basics of life are missing. This is not love.
I have a conversion story about a man who went from using people to loving people. It shows the great power of God’s grace. In 1902 an Italian by the name of Alessandro Serrenelli murdered a 12 year old girl. This young girl resisted his advances as he tried to attack her with impure motives. This resistance angered him so much that he stabbed her 14 times in the abdomen. She died a few hours later.
Alessandro was an eighteen year old who was very much addicted to pornography and in his own words said, “My behavior was influenced by pornography and the bad examples of friends which I followed without even thinking, I was not worried and looking back now at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.” After being captured and tried, and still being considered a minor, he was sent to prison for thirty years of hard labor. He began his sentence in an unrepentant rage. He attacked anyone who entered his prison cell.
After three years of anger and hard labor Alessandro was finally willing to let a priest visit with him. He later sent this priest a thank-you note and in it he wrote about a dream that he had had. He wrote that he had dreamt of the young girl he had murdered and in this dream she had given him a bouquet of white lilies, which in the dream, immediately turned black and disintegrated as soon as he touched them. This dream marked the beginning of Alessandro’s conversion. Peace began to invade his heart, he began to live a constructive life, and he began to live in repentance. After twenty seven years of his sentence Alessandro was released three years early for good behavior.
After leaving the prison the very first person he visited was the murdered girl’s mom, he asked her to forgive him. Which she did saying, “If my daughter can forgive you, who am I to withhold forgiveness?” They went to Mass together and they received the Eucharist together, kneeling side by side at the communion rail. He went from using people to loving people.
Alessandro eventually became a Third Order Capuchin and spent his remaining days working quietly as a gardener for The Brothers of St. Francis Monastery. Toward the end of his life he wrote, “I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful and difficult ones of life.” This story of Alessandro is an amazing conversion story a testament to God’s grace. God’s grace is always at work in our lives helping us to love more purely. Helping us to love more purely without using. It gives us hope.
In a series of teachings that became known as the “Theology of the Body” Pope St. John Paul II said that one of the key essentials to keep a marriage thriving, in fact, to keep all relationships thriving, is piety. Now piety is not a word we often use today. So what is piety? Piety is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Piety is that which helps us choose to love even when the feelings of love aren’t there. And often in life, maybe even most of the time in life, the feelings aren’t there. But we still choose to love. Piety is an attitude of reverence, wonder, and awe in the face of the other person, whether that person is my spouse, my child, my parent, the kid in the classroom, the player on the other team, the co-worker, the woman in an ad on TV, the homeless man or the child in the womb. This reverence, wonder, and awe stem from the fact that whenever I look at or talk to another person, no matter how big or small, how rich or poor, that person is someone God Himself has created personally, someone for whom God became a man, someone for whom Jesus shed His blood, someone who is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and someone destined to be divinized and share in God’s own life and glory forever. Piety reminds us there are no unimportant people.
Most of our culture, as we know, is a culture of impiety. That’s how it justifies abortion, so called mercy killings, pornography, the degradation of women in so many ways, a lack of attentiveness to the situation of those less fortunate, and so much more. How does this change? In so many ways over much time, to be sure, but one way to start is simply by practicing piety. This week, let’s make it a point to do something concretely to honor other people in our lives, making it a goal every day to show reverence, wonder, and awe to each other, watching how we treat and speak to our spouse, our children, our parents, our co-workers, those we don’t like, and even our enemies.
The love that God has for us personally, the love that God has personally for you and for me, as our Creator and Father is the whole basis of our identity, each of us is a beloved child of God. God’s love is personal and individual. Each of us has every right to say, “God loves me as he loves nobody else in the world!” God does not love two people in the same way because it’s actually his unique love for each of us that creates our personality, a different personality for each of us.
Now God’s unique love for each of us includes the gift of a unique response in return. We can give God and our brothers and sisters, the Church and the world a love that nobody has ever yet given them. We can give them the love that belongs to us, in accordance with our personality. We love in a way that no one ever has or ever will. Each of us has a unique place, a unique and irreplaceable role, a fruitfulness that is all our own and cannot be taken on by anyone else. When we don’t love, where we are meant to love, that void is not filled by another person. When we don’t love, where we are meant to love, that void is not filled by another person.
May the Lord’s grace help us always to love. May the Lord’s grace help us to love with reverence, awe, and wonder.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley