A two-day retreat with twenty-nine eighth graders is one of the most exhausting experiences I’ve ever had. Junior high is a time where young girls and boys begin asking life’s big questions. They begin the journey of understanding who they are and why they have been created. The classic and easy answer to these questions can be found in the Baltimore Catechism. You are here on this earth to love and serve God. This sweet, simple, and very straightforward answer seems to hit the mark. Yes, we are created for love and by love. As human beings, we are made for relationship. Being made in the image and likeness of God means that we are made to reflect the love of the Trinity, a communion of divine persons in divine love. Teaching children these truths can be a bit challenging. These thirteen-year-olds have an overwhelming culture and environment that damages their understanding of “love”.
In today’s readings, we hear Jesus proclaim the Greatest Commandment (Mk 12:28-34). Jesus gives us this short and profound commandment; to love God with all of our hearts, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Some may look at this great command and respond, “sounds easy enough.” Sitting in a room of thirteen-year-old girls showed me that this is not that easy. In the clickiness of ruthless teens, some students began to share their hurts and wounds. Many of these students have been the bully or the one bullied. They sat in a circle and shared their thoughts of how they believe the lies others say about them. They believed the lies from themselves or others that they are; ugly, fat, annoying, stupid, or nothing. As I sat in the circle, I looked around and only saw beauty. I saw girls who are kind, girls who are strong, girls who are mature, girls who are each uniquely and completely beautiful. Through conversation and tears, I was reminded of the very real fact that we struggle to truly love ourselves. I am no longer in junior high. I do not experience many “bullies” telling me these lies in my own life. Although, I do know what it is like to not love myself- just like my student’s experience. Sometimes I can be my own worst bully.
Whenever I read of Jesus’ Greatest Commandment, I always ask, “How are we supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves when we do not truly love ourselves?” To truly live out this Golden Rule, we must stop. We must look at ourselves and see value, worth, and beauty. Loving yourself is not selfish, but is necessary to living a holy life. The battle against ourselves in our interior life can be exhausting. But it is in this battle that we are required to receive God’s love and continue to fight the good fight. How are we to love our neighbor as ourselves? How are we to love ourselves? We are called to love ourselves and see ourselves in His Word of Truth. We are called to love ourselves as God loves us.
It is in the Cross that we find our meaning, our worth, our dignity as human beings. It is only by living in the unending love of Christ, that we may love ourselves and love our neighbors as ourselves. Whether you are in junior high, a college student, or parent- we are constantly in this battle of lies. We must take comfort. Jesus wants to teach us how to love. St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “The Cross is the school of love.” It is upon the wood of the cross that we find how we are to love ourselves and how we are to love others. In this Lenten season, I want to challenge you to reflect on your own self-love. Do you believe or tell yourself lies? Are you choosing the ultimate good for yourself? Do you know the voice of Christ and what He says about you? I want to challenge you to truly see yourself and love yourself as Christ loves you. It is from this battle that we may bear fruit in our love of God and our neighbors.
Briana is a Catholic Doctrine teacher at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel school in Cleveland, OH. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Catechetics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH and is excited to use these skills to bring her students closer to Christ and His Church. “My soul has been refined and I can raise my head like a flower after a storm.” -St. Therese