Radiating Love

“Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us.” That’s the first line of the second reading for the Solemnity of All Saints in the Catholic church this year, from John’s first letter. It’s also what anyone might have said upon meeting Fr. Joseph Boyle, abbot of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.

To stand in Joseph’s presence was to receive an outpouring of strong and gentle love. You felt the love he radiated. It warmed you, and your heart opened in response the way a flower unfurls its petals to catch the sun’s rays and so becomes ready to welcome whatever visitors bring it life.

I grew up going on retreat at St. Benedict’s with my mom and a group of women around her age. Joseph entered my life in the way that people sometimes do when you’re a kid—effortlessly with no questions asked. As I got older, my appreciation and gratitude for the gift of this remarkable, kind, and generous human being grew.

I didn’t realize that I thought Joseph would live forever until he was gone. I haven’t seen him for many years, but without knowing it, I held this belief that whenever I returned to St. Benedict’s, his steady and loving presence would be there. I simply couldn’t imagine the world without him.

On my bookshelf waiting to be read is a book titled Humility Matters: Toward Purity of Heart. Joseph had a depth of humility, a pureness of heart that few people do. Perhaps I’m so surprised by the strength of pain and loss I’m experiencing because he manifested and offered God’s love so freely and purely that one received the gift without completely realizing its immensity.

Once after mass, he and I were talking when he saw someone across the room and said, oh I can’t let this person leave without receiving some of my love. It was a revelation to me that one could deeply respect the value of one’s own love and know the importance of sharing it without a trace of self-importance. Joseph always knew that the source of his love was God and didn’t feel it necessary to get in the way of God’s love flowing through him and out to the rest of us.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” reads one of the lines in the Beatitudes, the Gospel reading for All Saints. They will see God, as Joseph did, in their fellow human beings, in all creation, and in themselves. And now that he has passed on from this world to whatever communion awaits, surely he is seeing the fullness of God; surely he is continuing to become the beautiful love he shared with anyone fortunate enough to meet him.

Love Everyone

Phil Bailey is a lot like Jesus—if Jesus had to have a rum and Coke and half a ham sandwich on white bread every day. I don’t know whether Phil, who has little interest in religion, will appreciate being compared to Jesus, but he’ll surely let me know if he doesn’t.

How can I explain that I thoroughly admire and respect a boss with whom my main mode of communication is an exchange of insults? Perhaps with another question—how many people in high ranking positions are secure enough with who they are to welcome such a relationship?

Phil more than lives up to his responsibilities as dean of the college without considering himself more important than anyone else. While working with him has sharpened my tongue, it has also taught me humility. Phil knows who he is and knows that both is and isn’t a big deal. Jesus knew he was the son of God and he washed the disciples’ feet.

Which brings us to the second way Phil is like Jesus—he is first and foremost a servant. Though in a position of power, he uses every ounce of his privilege on behalf of the powerless. He and his wife, Tina, have invited many students in dire financial need to live with them. He mentioned to the university’s top donors that some students can’t afford to eat, and now we have a meal voucher program and a food bank. Though I don’t know whether I’ll ever have the capacity to emulate what Phil and Tina do, simply knowing someone does it has enlarged my view of what is possible in this world.

Jesus came to show us the divinity of our humanity, our own incarnate nature. Though Phil will undoubtedly find that last sentence too high-falutin’ (he’s from Texas), he, too, delights in his humanity and the humanity of those around him. Whether playing penny ante poker, watching football, or reporting with glee on some particularly stupid comment he heard on the news, he enjoys this world and enters fully into life rather than trying to escape from it.

And finally, Phil loves everyone, without exception and with incomparable generosity, which is really all Jesus ever asked us to do. I would gladly follow both of these men, not—as Phil will be the first to tell you—in blind obedience but rather in hopes of learning to live as they do.