Through God, physical fruitfulness can engender spiritual fruitfulness. Spiritual fruitfulness can engender physical fruitfulness. This is part of my understanding of the Church’s teaching with regards to God’s plan for marital love. The love of God is eternal, free, total, faithful, fruitful, sacrificial (in Christ), unconditional, fiery, and fresh. Married conjugal love should be a participation in that love, and we are accustomed to the use of such adjectives to describe married love, or in discussions of Theology of the Body. Such adjectives, however, also describe love as experienced by a single person, priest, or religious, since it is the way God loves us and the way in which we are all called to love God and each other.

While we do not always see the fruits of our labor and love, I hope all—priests, deacons, single and married persons—experience how precious their self-giving and self-sacrificing love is to the Church, and the world. God never promised that we would see the fruits of our love in this life. Certainly, if God desires (and I believe He does) He will show us how our life in Christ brought about (or did not bring about) the Kingdom on the last day. “(Paul) planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Cor 3:6-9

Single persons, religious, and those who have received Holy Orders participate in that love in a way unique to their vocation. It is my hope that this reflection on the fruitful love of the priest, can serve as an invitation and encouragement to bishops, priests and deacons to self-giving and self-sacrificing love. Love hurts. It is not easy; it involves sacrifice. “Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.” Pre-Vatican II Marriage Exhortation

As a priest and pastor, I try to live self-giving and self-sacrificing love. It means more work, and can even bring more problems and difficulties. However my hope and belief, and indeed my experience, is that love lived in and through Christ sacrificially and unconditionally bears fruit, if not immediately, or in my own community, then eventually, when and where God intends. If God lets us see the fruit of our labors, it’s a grace.

For example, I have the joy of allowing various groups and movements to make use of the Church, classrooms, and hall for gatherings, formation, prayer, retreats, etc. It means more work, bigger utility bills, more confessions, etc. but it can also mean growth in faith and love of God, and equipping God’s holy ones for mission. I often make appointments into the evening and night. As we don’t have full hospital chaplaincy coverage, I respond to the needs at the hospital even when it’s difficult or inconvenient. We keep our parish Church open so that people can go in and out for prayer as they please. My hope is that in and through Christ, living God’s will with love will bear fruit in the full flourishing of vocations in the Church: happy marriages, holy families, dedicated baptized and confirmed missionary disciples, good religious, holy deacons, priests, and bishops. It has been a blessing to participate in marriage preparation, in the formation of young people and adults, and sending young adults to the seminary and/or religious life.

When as priests, we lock up our parish Churches, don’t make ourselves available for appointments, don’t visit the sick, neglect the preparation of our homilies, skimp on prayer life, distance ourselves from opportunities to teach—-we contracept / sterilize the love and fruitfulness of God. Certainly God is all powerful and can break through where He wills, but love is best lived laying down our life for others. The people whom we have the privilege of serving, teaching, sanctifying and building up will experience the fruitful and merciful love of God through us.

Each person is unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable, precious, and loved infinitely by God. “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, inauguration homily April 24, 2005 “No greater love is there than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 It is the great paradox—living self-giving and self-sacrificing love.

Let us all, especially us priests, encourage each other in living out our vocation in a self-giving and self-sacrificing way, in the manner of Christ the Good Shepherd.

Fr. Edward Horning is a priest for the Diocese of San Diego, and Pastor of the Catholic parishes of Westmoreland and Brawley. Fr. Ed co-hosts a radio program about Theology of the Body called “Buenos Días en el Camino” on Thursdays from 9am-10am on ESNE radio (El Sembrador), and spoke in the Spanish track of the HV50 conference held July 27-28 in Ontario, California on
50 años de Humanae Vitae: Viendo el mundo con los lentes de Humanae Vitae y la Teología del Cuerpo. View Recording HERE