God is love. God's love is not moderate; it is radical! Christ's love is extreme, irrational, undeserved and not fully comprehensible. It makes no logical sense. He loves the innocent and the guilty, the saint and the sinner.

Jesus loves us freely, not because we add something to Him or fulfill a need that He has. He showed us that love is self-giving and self-sacrificing.

Our culture does not understand love. It seems to believe that love consists of rejecting inequities, discrimination and hate, while promoting self-gratification through pride, materialism, self-assertion and the pursuit of pleasure. It insists that, to love a person, we must also love their sins. This is not what love is!

Equality is not always a virtue and discrimination is not always a vice. For example, there are people with special needs who must be accommodated; justice demands it. That is justice, despite inequality.

Also, while discrimination against groups or individuals is repugnant, discrimination against specific actions, attitudes, circumstances, ideas and events is necessary for freedom and fairness. It's discriminatory to support one cause and reject another, but how else can we have freedom? How can we have justice if we are not allowed to discriminate between good and bad actions?

Christ demonstrates love with a woman caught in the act of committing adultery, brought before Him to be stoned to death. Jesus says, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." He shows this woman love. What did the woman do to earn that? Nothing! Love is not earned; it is a free gift from God.

Loving someone does not mean we approve or justify sin. Jesus does not justify the adulterous woman's sin. He offers no excuses, no rationalizations. He doesn't tell her, "It's OK; God understands," or, "It's no big deal." He doesn't patronize her like that. Jesus acknowledges her sin, forgives her and tells her, "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore." He loves her more than that sin and He created her for something better than that.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, "Christian love bears evil, but it does not tolerate it. It does penance for the sins of others, but it is not broadminded about sin. Real love involves real hatred: Whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the sellers from the temples has also lost a living, fervent love of truth."

If Christ's love is radical, our love must also be radical in response. Early Christians had this radical love. They were incredibly brave and showed love even in the face of brutal persecution. This love caused many Romans to wonder who Jesus was and where His followers got their courage and joy. It led to the conversion of many. This is what we must be in the modern world.

Last weekend, I was present at the St. Isaac Jogues Youth Conference, held at St. Ambrose parish in Latham. I saw radical love on display there.

I saw dozens of young people kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation and on fire with faith and love, eager to live it out. I was reminded that, as a seminarian, I, too, must embody this radical love and live it every day through self-sacrifice.

Rev. Marc Touchette, a priest of the Albany Diocese who died in 2012 and a mentor to me, once told me that people thought he gave up a lot to be a priest for more than 50 years, but he always answered, "No, I just traded it in for something better." Archbishop Sheen understood that when he observed, "When we die to something, something comes alive within us. If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive; if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; it we die to anger, love comes alive."

Sacrifice, rejection of sin and "coming to life" are the only hope for our culture. Only by living radical love will the secular culture, so numb to love, be compelled to turn its head and wonder, "Where do these Christians get such love, such joy?"

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)