Greg Schmidt - Mar 6, 2013
Background: Religious education and growing in one’s faith is indeed a gift. It is also a wonderful ministry to be able to provide. My field education is providing exactly this ministry to a city parish to grade twelve students. This has been an entirely new experience for me as I have never been in a classroom setting providing faith education. It has proven to be both challenging and rewarding, and I trust it will serve me well in the years to come. What makes this ministry even more challenging is that I and the students come from two totally different cultures – North American and African. The students have been in the United States between 2 to 4 years, and from what I have seen have adapted well. At the same time, I know they miss home.
Description: In one of our recent sessions, our theme was “Why did God create us?” My response was that God created us to give him glory, and that we do this by using the gifts that he gave us. Creation, I said, is an overflow of his love. In our conversation that followed, we talked about God’s love for us, and the importance of sharing God’s love with others. I recall saying how important it is to tell our family members that we love them. The students quickly advised me that never have they told their parents that they love them, nor have their parents every said to them that “I love you.”
As our conversation continued, I encouraged them sometime in the near future to say to their mother or father “I love you.” They informed me that it was not part of their culture. The fact that these students have never heard the words “I love you” from their parents shocked me. What I consider so basic and a given was something they had never heard in their life. I mentioned this to my supervisor and she too was shocked.
Analysis: I thought about this for some time after, reflecting on my own life. I assumed that everyone has heard from their parents that they are loved – verbally that is. I did not think that saying the words “I love you” was culture based. Growing up and to this day I hear the words “I love you” on a regular basis.
Upon thinking about this in greater depth, I asked myself if I was forcing my culture and beliefs on these students. Was I asking something of them that could potentially embarrass them? Or could it have been exactly what their parents longed to hear, as they too likely never heard it growing up? I also considered more deeply who told me they loved me growing up. Was there an unspoken love? Was putting a roof over my head and clothes on my back a way of saying I love you? Was a family drive on Sunday or a family vacation another way of expressing love? Was keeping me safe from harm not love? Was bringing me into this world not the ultimate sign of love?
Taking this one step further, how do we show our neighbor that we love them? How do I show these students that they are loved? Is it by my actions, by my being there, and by showing a true interest in them? I desire to see them to succeed, and to grow in their faith. Is this how we say that we love our neighbor?
The ministerial issue for reflection in this case is: In our ministry, and in our own families, is it necessary to say “I love you?” If Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, does it always have to be verbally?
Theological Reflection: According to 1 John 4:8, the very nature of God is Love, and love is present in Scripture as one of the central themes in describing the relationship between God and humanity. Indeed, love is the basis of creation. Because of his superabundant love, God willingly gave his own Son to bring salvation to the fallen world (John 3:16; Romans 5:5-9; 1 John 4:9). The task for all of us, then, is above all to love God with our entire heart (Deut 6:5; Matt 22:37). We are also called to love our neighbors (Lev 19:18, 1 John 4:11-21).
Jesus loved his friends so deeply that he was willing to lay down his life for them (John 13:1; 1 John 3:16) in order for them and us to be adopted sons of the Father. In return, the disciples were required to show their love by imitating the unifying love of the Son and the Father (John 17:21-23). Such a love had to be more than mere words; it had to manifested by deeds: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18), including keeping the commandments of Jesus (John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3). Christians should also love one another (John 13:34; 15:17) with the same love that Christ showed to them (John 15:12).
Jesus’ actions reveal that he truly loves us. Jesus took care of those around him. He fed them. He looked after their physical needs and issues. He attended to their spiritual needs. And he ultimately died on the cross for us. These were all deeds and actions. He showed his love by serving God and his people. We too are called to live our lives by serving others, all out of love.
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical God Is Love: “The consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others. Whoever loves Christ loves the Church, and desires the Church to be increasingly the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ.” As ministers in the church, and in fact as baptized Christians, we are called to be instruments of love here on earth, through our deeds and actions, which are often unspoken.
I do not doubt that these children love their parents, and that they are loved in return. Their parents are giving them the greatest gift of all – the gift of faith, and a love for the church. They moved their families from Africa to Buffalo for a better life, a brighter future. While they do not hear the words “I love you,” their parent’s deeds and actions express their love loud and clear.
Evaluation: I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to minister to these fine students. Over time they have warmed up to me and have been very willing to share their faith and stories with me. While the words “I love you” have never been spoken, I pray that my deeds and actions have expressed that to them. I am also reminded that in my future ministry the words “I love you” will likely never be spoken, and yet in my mind, through deeds and actions, there will be tremendous love for my friends, peers, parishioners, and those that I care for.
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