As we read every day about corruption within our religious institutions and brutal acts of violence against those seeking merely to worship God peacefully, we come to realize how difficult it is to love in such a sinful world. Yet love is the only way that God reveals his true nature and that leads us to God and to our true human identity.  

Real love always entails much sacrifice. Even before the fall, Adam and Eve were familiar with “the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of day” (Gen. 3:8). It is God who always goes out of the way to engage us in conversation.  

In last Sunday’s account of the Transfiguration, it is “Jesus [who] took Peter, John and James and went up to the mountain to pray” (Lk 9:28B) to raise them up to a new level of awareness about his true identity. Is it not ironic that throughout history God is the one always being questioned by his creatures. Who are you? Where are you? Do you even exist? It seems as absurd as a tree or a plant wondering whether the sun to which it bends for its life even exists, or a horse taking for granted the barn and all the hay it feeds on in it as if they were products of its own invention. 

God “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45), on believers, doubters and derelicts alike. God is one who when we destroy, disregard or dirty up his creation continues to pour out his merciful bounty of grace, to which we are often blind or tone deaf. 

If this is God’s way of being — relentlessly loving, present and redeeming — then we can begin to understand how the holiness which we honor in saints like Joseph and Patrick, whose feast days occurred earlier in the week, mirrors the patience and loving care of our God. 

“He walked off the map,” it has been said of Patrick. Nothing held him back from his mission to re-evangelize the people of Ireland, a country to which he was first brought from England, a slave to captive pirates. The hardships he endured and the boundaries he bravely crossed to free himself are embellished no doubt by legend. His apostolic zeal, however, never flagged.   

Determined to return after escaping briefly, emboldened by his passion to preach the Gospel to onetime Christians who had lapsed into the practices of their pagan past, he invites us today to rebuild a Church sullied by the sins of fathers who have preyed on their own children. The breastplate of St. Patrick — total trust in and surrender to Christ — must be our battle standard. Once again, the serpentine snares of a neo-pagan culture increasingly hostile to innocent life must be driven from every island — personal, familial and communal. St. Patrick, grow our moral wasteland green with the new life of God’s generous grace! 

St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, sturdy caregiver over families, the domestic Church, and guardian of personal holiness, belongs in every heart and home. He models true fatherhood in his conjugal chastity and the human formation of the Word incarnate, placing God’s loving will always at the center of his life.  

No human being loves the Church, the spouse of Christ, more than St. Joseph. No one more lovingly leads us to protect her by his example of care and custody over the first Holy Family. We join with St. Joseph as our guide and patron to dedicate ourselves, as the Body of Christ, in complete fidelity to our Lord, who has given his life in love for us.  

Like St. Joseph and St. Patrick, caring for the Body of Christ, God’s people, requires much love, patience and sacrifice. ¬≠Ecclesia semper reformanda — the Church must always be reformed. The reform that we seek, however, must always begin by modeling ourselves more closely to the image of Christ who came to serve and not be served. “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).  

Lent reminds us that before we can hope to reform our institutions, including the Church, we must first place our hearts in the heart of Christ and give him permission to transform them according to his pure love. That will require a willingness to let him strip away many of the judgments, attitudes, agendas and certainties that we might be inclined to exact from or impose on others. To see others in God’s eyes we must first allow Christ to look at us and rid us of all that is not of God. That takes patience, humility and sacrifice. True love requires nothing less.