Love is Not Just a Feeling, it's a Decision.
Jesus says, love one another as I have loved you. Through Joseph Dutton, who lived with, served, and loved the lepers of Molokai for over 40 years, we see that love is not just a feeling or an emotion. It's a decision. It's an act. His life is a provocation that the Christian life is possible, that a life of holiness is possible, no matter what we're struggling with.
Love means to give ourselves totally because that's what the Lord revealed to us on the cross. We see an example of this through the life of Joseph Dutton, who served the lepers of Molokai for over 40 years.
Dutton's life shows us is that the Lord with His love meets us where we are in life, wherever we are. And He loves us there, but He doesn't want us to stay there. Rather He wants His love to draw us into discipleship, to follow him, to purify us, and to set us on fire with this love.
What it makes Dutton's life so inspiring and believable is the fact that we can readily relate to his weaknesses and mistakes in life, but that can also make us uncomfortable. Why? Because if this man became holy and will likely become a saint, then what's my excuse?
Full Audio Transcript
00:02 Jesus says, I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you all should love one another. Lately I've become a fan of Joseph Dutton and came across an article on his life by a professor, Pat Mcnamara, who teaches church history at the seminary in New York. Most of us don't know about Joseph Dutton, but some of us perhaps have heard about Father Damien of Molokai. Now Saint Damian of Molokai. Well, Joe Joseph Dutton helped him, and now his cause for canonization has been opened.
00:45 And we can pick up Joseph Dutton's life when he arrived in Molokai. It was 1886 and and a ship. The ship arrived into Molokai and Father Damien, who always greeted the newcomer newcomers, usually lepers, who were seeking refuge and comfort at the leper colony. Uh, he went down to see them, but one passenger stood out. He was tall and in a blue denim suit. And he wasn't a leper. It was Joseph Dutton. And he was 43 years old. And he came to help Father Damien and the priest told him, he says, "I can't pay you anything" but Dutton didn't care.
01:27 He arrived in the Molokai and stayed there for the next 45 years, serving the lepers, remaining long after Father Damien died in 1889. Now, Joseph's journey to Molokai was full of twists and turns. He was born Ira Dutton in Vermont in 1843, in a thoroughly Protestant setting. And by age 18, we find that he's in Wisconsin, uh, teaching Sunday school and working in a bookstore.
02:01 Then the Civil War broke out and he and he enlisted and fought with the Union army in the 13th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. He didn't see much combat, uh, but was an able administrator and attained the rank of captain. During the war, he married a woman and it proved to be tragic. He never mentioned her name. Friends apparently had warned him of her reputation for infidelity, but Ira had hoped to change her. She left him broke and then ran off with another man. He was discharged from the army and then spent the next 20 years doing a variety of jobs. All of which he was pretty successful at. Everything from working in a cemetery to running a distillery in Alabama.
02:53 He was very successful in business, but nevertheless, became what we would call today a functioning alcoholic. And then in 1876, 10 years of alcoholism, he had a kind of epiphany, experienced a spiritual transformation, and quit drinking and stayed sober the rest of his life.
03:18 Although he had fallen away from God and religion during the war, he became interested in the Catholic faith through the influence of his Catholic friends. And after studying the catechism for a month, he was received into the church in 1883 on his 40th birthday. And when he converted and was received into the church, he took the name Joseph, his favorite saint. And in his words, he began a new life. We just heard from our Lord, in the book of revelation, "behold, I make all things new", and that's just not at the end of the world, but even now it can begin. And it began in Joseph Dutton's life at that point, at that point.
04:05 And from that he wanted to do penance for what he called his wild years, his sinful capers. And so he went to the, Our Lady of Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky, which is just outside of Louisville, it's still there. Those of you who are familiar with the writings of Thomas Merton, uh, would know that that was his monastery. It's still there. So he wanted to go to Gethsemane, to do penance for his life, but after 20 months, realized that the Lord was calling him not to, not to a penitent contemplation as he thought, but to penitent action. And it was about this time that he read about Father Damien and what he was doing at the leper colony in Molokai. And now he had, he had the transformation of a horrific place to a place where God dwelt and he wanted to go help him. And he writes, he said, "I wanted to do some good for my neighbor and at the same time make it my penitentiary and doing penance for my sins and errors."
05:11 So he went to San Francisco, got on a ship and arrived in Molokai 1886 - 43 years old. And in the leper colony he served as an administrator, a carpenter, a repairman. He bandaged wounds. He coached baseball. He comforted the sick and the dying. And when Father Damien was dying in 1889 he said, "I can die now, brother Joseph will take care of my orphans." And although brother Joseph never took vows, he was known as brother Joseph, a brother to everyone. And on Molokai he found real peace and joy, the divine love his restless heart had been seeking. And he never left Molokai. Not once. Seek a vacation, he asked? Anything else would be slavery. The people here like me, I think, and I am sure I like them.
06:20 He also said this: I would not leave my lepers for all the money the world might have. His had been a restless life until divine love had penetrated his heart and grasped him and took hold of him and brought him to Molokai. And he died in 1931 a holy man.
06:48 Jesus says love one another, as I have loved you. God is love and this is a unique claim among Christians. And how did the Lord reveal that He is love to us? Through the cross. The Cross is his revelation of himself and therefore the definition of what love is. And love as revealed by love, we can see on the cross is not a mere feeling or emotion. Love is a decision. It's an act. It is to do what is good for the other and to will what is good for the other. Love means to give ourselves totally because that's what the Lord revealed to us on the cross.
07:42 Him giving himself for us, totally. And so the opposite of love isn't, isn't exactly hate. It's selfishness - using others for our own ends. And what's the most a human being can give? It's not possessions or time, but one's life. That is how the Lord revealed that he is absolute love, by suffering and dying on the cross for us.
08:16 The Cross therefore is not only the definition and the source of love, it's also the measure. And that's why the crucifix is such a central symbol of the sacred liturgy. Why we process with it, why it stands on our altars and receiving the direction of our prayer. And because love is not simply an emotion or a feeling, but a decision and an act. I can love even when I don't feel like it, even when it hurts, even when it's not thrilling, even when it costs me terribly. It's actually in those moments where we can love the most.
09:00 Love never asks, what am I getting out of this? Love never counts the cost, saying: look how much I'm giving. Rather, love always asks, what more can I give? And true love brings joy, even in the midst of sacrifice and suffering that is entailed in loving. And Joseph Dutton discovered this in the very difficult and tragic circumstances of of Molokai. He even sought it out.
09:38 Now we are made in the image and likeness of God the Son, and so we are made for that love. First of all, allowing God to love us and secondly to respond in loving him with all that we are and then loving our neighbor and yes, even ourselves. And he wants his love to penetrate us to the core, to transform us, to heal us, to liberate us from the corruption and misery of sin. And what Dutton's life shows us is that the Lord with his love meets us where we are at in life, wherever we are. And he loves us there, but he doesn't want us to stay there. Rather he wants his love to draw us into discipleship, to follow him, to purify us, and to set us on fire with this love.
10:38 And that's what's so crucial in this life is that some point of coming to the realization of his love for us. It happened to Joseph at some point, probably in that time of spiritual transformation where he gave up drinking.
10:53 I know it happened to me as a teenager when I was reading and praying with a, with a book that I found in my parent's bookcase. It was Saint Bridget's account of the Lord's passion, and reading her account of the Lord's passion had that encounter with the Lord, of him showing to me in my heart: "you need to know how much I love you", and that's what helped set my vocation into motion. Because to find our vocation and to live our vocation, we can't do it without love.
11:31 Jesus says love one another as I have loved you. This is the new commandment of the new and eternal covenant, and the God who is love is also the God who said, "I am the truth". And so we have this inseparable connection to love and truth. We cannot love someone the truth. And that's why the Lord also told us, if you love me, you will keep my commandments.
12:03 And that's why so we can see that every teaching of the church - her teaching on social doctrine, on marriage and human sexuality, on issues of human life - all flow from that fundamental truth that God is love. We just simply have to trace it back to to that truth and the ultimate inner coherence of all the church's teachings that are presented to us by the Lord as the truth. And you know it was the hard truth in Dutton's life that love that hard truth in love, that I imagine helped him to stop drinking. Jesus says, love one another as I have loved you, and this is what we see happen in Joseph Dutton's life.
12:55 What it makes his life so inspiring and believable is the fact that we can readily relate to his weaknesses and mistakes in life, but that can also make us uncomfortable. Why is that? Because if this man became holy and will likely become a saint, then what's my excuse? Right?
13:21 His life is a provocation of love. It's it's, it's a provocation that the Christian life is possible, that a life of holiness is possible no matter what we're struggling with. And now the Bishop of Honolulu, the Bishop Larry Silva has opened his case for canonization.
13:42 And I find myself, I pray to Joseph Dutton often, and the prayer for his cause summarizes well, I think, what we've been saying about the transformative power of divine love, this is what the prayer says: God our Father, by the grace of conversion, you raised your servant, Joseph Dutton, from the darkness of war, betrayal, addiction, and despair, to the liberating joy of charity and the service of the abandoned and isolated chronically ill. Therefore, we humbly ask you to allow him to intercede today for all who suffer on the periphery of human existence. May he pray, especially for us in our urgent need. In doing so, may he be listed among your saints in Heaven if it is for your glory and the building up your kingdom on earth. Amen.
14:37 Jesus says, love one another as I have loved you. Joseph Dutton did it, and we can too.