To Love God is a Gift that is Received, not Acheived

More often than not, the average Catholic thinks of the Commandments and the Christian moral life, as well as the spiritual life as a task, or list of tasks they must accomplish out of their own flesh power, or else they will face some negative consequence. Hence the moral life is seen by many as a drudgery and is carried out with little enthusiasm. Hence many will hear that they must be less angry, more generous, less vengeful, more chaste etc., and they think rules, and rules though necessary are uninspiring.

Few see the moral life as a magnificent vision of transformation in Christ and a portrait of a soul set on fire with love. More see the moral and spiritual life as a painful prescription more than a delightful description of what happens to the human person when Jesus Christ begins to live his life in them. Most see the most life as something thy must achieve rather than receive.

Of course “achievement” is neither grace, nor the gospel. And if salvation, transformation and perfection can be achieved, then who needs Christ?

Therefore, we must come to see the moral vision of the New Testament, with all its lofty and seemingly impossible demands as a description of what God will do for us, rather than a prescription of what we must do by our unaided flesh.

Consider the first and greatest commandment that we should Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut 6:5). Frankly most people, (in their flesh), have a hard time loving God. They find prayer tedious, and are lukewarm at best in their affection for God. Mass, Scripture, prayer and so forth seem boring endeavors to them and, though they find time for everything else, God often gets no time, or, at best, the leftovers of the day.

On hearing that they should love God, some will attempt to rouse themselves to “do better.” But the results are usually pretty discouraging, since they are usually attempts made out of the flesh which is inimical to God (cf Rom 8:7).

How then shall we get there? How does the human person attain to the normal Christian life which is to have a tender and intense love for God?

Consider the following passage from one of the lesser known Eastern Fathers of the Church:

Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God. In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him. When this awareness is keen it makes whoever possesses it long to be enlightened by the divine light, and this longing is so intense that it seems to penetrate his very bones. He loses all consciousness of himself and is entirely transformed by the love of God.

Such a man lives in this life and at the same time does not live in it, for although he still inhabits his body, he is constantly leaving it in spirit because of the love that draws him toward God. Once the love of God has released him from self-love, the flame of divine love never ceases to burn in his heart and he remains united to God by an irresistible longing.

From the treatise On Spiritual Perfection by St. Diadochus of Photice, bishop
(Cap. 12. 13. 14: PG 65, 1171-1172)

What St. Diadochus is describing here is the normal Christian life. Here the word “normal” is not used in the numerary sense that “most people attain this,” but in the sense of “what is to be expected.” How could it be that if Jesus Christ is living his life in us we would have anything less than a tender and longing love for God?

And note how Diadochus says this love begins in our experience of God’s love for us. Experience here means more than intellectual assent to the statement that “God loves me.” Rather, experience means just that, experience, to actually know, in a first hand way, and to witness the power and tenderness of God’s love for me. As it finally begins to dawn on us that the Son of God died for us, our hearts are steeped in God’s love. Yes, it finally begins to dawn on us that the Father’s providential love for us is unlimited and magnificent. Being filled with that love we now gain a joy, an affection, a serenity and an tender love of growing intensity for God.

More and more we delight to think of him, speak with him and simply sit quietly in contemplative union with God. And thus we journey, by stages to the normal Christian life, which is to have a deep affection and tender love and abiding desire for God.

Go to the Cross of Christ and ask this gift. Ask for the desire for this gift, if you don’t even have that. But ask, seek, knock. Our love for God is not, and cannot be our work. It is God’s work in us. And all He needs to get started is your “yes.” The door to your heart must be opened from the inside. Let God enter, and let him go to work filling you with his love.

5 Replies to “To Love God is a Gift that is Received, not Acheived”

  1. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    I have been asking and praying for the grace of unbounding confidence in God’s love for me. I want to be filled with love for God yet I know only He can fill me through His love. I have a strong prayer life (daily Mass, LOH, meditative prayer, Bible study) but I still struggle with experiencing, rather than intellectualizing, His love. My upbringing involved strong feelings of abandonment that God has healed to some extent but I feel as if my past holds me back from Him. I know it is His work but that I also need to cooperate with it. How can I learn to trust in His love?

    1. The kind of questions you asked are best answered in the on-going relationship with a skilled spiritual director. However a few areas to mention in a general kind of way would include exploring the kinds of obstacles and logjams that occur in our personality. Often early childhood experiences with parents, especially with one’s father must be explored for we often take our experience with an early father and project into our understanding of God the Father. Also to be explored are tendencies to scrupulosity and our overall experience with sin, not just the sins we commit but how we come to experience God’s mercy. Is it just a juridic sort of thing wherein we are forgiven in a legal sense, or is confession a deeper experience of God’s mercy. I often ask spiritual directees of mine to spend extended time with the text of Luke 15 in this regard.

      Finally, I must say, and this gets on more scary ground but, our experience of God’s love and mercy is often most related to our sufferings. Those who make the “break-through” into God’s love often do so after a period of deeper suffering. This was surely the case with me since, as I have noted elsewhere, God sometimes has to break our hearts to heal them, to humble us in order to exult us. An old saying goes, “Everything needs a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in.” Those who appreciate and experience the light most are often those who have known the darkness most deeply. While it is true that God most often works in gentle and subtle ways, it is also true that this manner is marked with periods of intensity as well.

      I hope you got a moment to view the video, if not do so, since Fr. Martin does a good job describing the love we seek. We must hunger for it, as you do. But we must hunger enough for it that we are also willing to endure the sufferings that often usher it in and also do the work of seeing the logjams in our personality and allowing God to set them loose.

      1. Thank you, Msgr., for your thoughtful reply. Yes, suffering is a way to experience God’s love. The healing that I mentioned took part mainly through a major health crisis. During that time I threw myself on His mercy and even in fear chose to trust and abandon myself to His will. I felt so close to God and carried through a very dark time. It’s frustrating that after an experience like that I still struggle with trust but I need to keep in mind how great a gift He already gave me. Fr. Martin does express it beautifully – His face shines on us in graciousness. In one way I have had to let go of focusing too much on my personality as I have a tendency to be too hard on myself (as my confessors have confirmed). If God can forgive me, surely I can forgive myself. Another area to trust in. In regards to Luke 15, I came to the Catholic Church 10 years ago after 30 years away (I am exactly your age). I believe that I was one of the lost sheep that God sought and brought back to Him and I am truly grateful. Thank you again for your reply and ministry.

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