St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, wrote a great little book called “Spiritual Exercises.” This writing of his is a handbook for retreats. Thousands of saints have come out of the Exercises over five hundred years. The impact of this little book on the life of the Church is remarkable.
In this great work, St. Ignatius rarely uses the word love; when he uses it, he pairs it with service. For St. Ignatius to serve is to love. And love is not authentic if it is not accompanied by service.
His hesitance probably comes from the protestant reformation that was expanding through Europe in his time. The rejection of objective truth and the emphasis on personal feelings detached the concept of love from service. St. Ignatius was worried that if he said the word love too often, some people would understand it simply as a warm feeling in the heart that might not translate into action.
Similarly, today’s parable of the two sons underlines the importance of actions over mere words. The parable is directed to the chief priests and the elders. They had a big problem with hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy can be defined as the act of pretending to possess qualities one lacks, or, more relevantly to today’s Gospel, presenting a deceptive facade of virtue or religious devotion.
There is a particular danger of hypocrisy in religion because of the rituals of worship, which often follow certain public forms. This is alright in itself. But our exterior should follow the intention of the heart. When only the actions of the body are worshiping, and the heart is not, then we have a problem.
But returning to our theme of the importance of service and not just words, let us look at some things this parable can teach us.
The first son initially refused his father’s request to work in the vineyard, but later he changed his mind and went. Despite his initial disobedience in words, his eventual obedience in action demonstrated his true commitment to his father’s will. This illustrates that genuine love is reflected in our actions, even if our initial response may be negative or hesitant.
The second son, on the other hand, verbally agreed to work in the vineyard but did not follow through with action. His words did not align with his behavior, indicating that mere verbal commitments, without corresponding deeds, lack authenticity.
The lesson for us is clear – it’s not enough to make grand promises or verbal commitments of service to God or others. True love and obedience require us to follow through with concrete actions that align with our words. Our faith should be evident in how we live our lives, treat others, and contribute to the well-being of those around us.
Prioritizing service over words calls for integrity and consistency in our actions. When we say we will do something, we should follow through. This not only builds trust with others but also reflects our commitment to living out our values.
Genuine service becomes a powerful form of witness to our faith. When we serve others selflessly and with love, our actions can inspire and draw others closer to God. It’s a tangible way of sharing the message of Christ.
In this sense, I am edified daily by the service to our Sandwich Line guests at St. Elizabeth’s. Seeing how our community shows its love not in empty words, but in strong action is such a joy for me.
May the Lord grant that we don’t only love him with our words but that we always love him in our neighbor with our selfless service.