“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
“For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). So begins everyone’s favorite Bible verse. The phrase has a wonderful drive to it. It captures God’s fundamental desire to share his life with humankind, even at the cost of his Son’s life. Through Christ’s sacrifice God shows us how much he loves us, and his desire to have that love returned.
Love is the first and last word of the Christian faith. The love of God is a “crazy love” in the sense of being offered freely. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s love takes all theinitiative: from creating a good world, to bestowing the gift of life, to reaching out to fallen and broken men and women.
In my experience, it’s remarkable how little the love of God is emphasized in Catholic and other Christian circles. In Catholic circles in particular there’s a lot of emphasis on moral boot-strapping. Try harder! Do your part. There’s a discipline to the spiritual life…etc.
All true, and yet that’s not the first thing to be said, nor should it be the default summation of the spiritual life.
We need to talk more about God’s love as the oxygen of the spiritual life.
I understand that those who love God obey his commandments — that love and obedience go together. But what about falling in love with God?
When you fall in love with your wife, it’s not hard to serve her — it’s a pleasure — at least most of the time — even when it costs.
If we’d put the emphasis on falling in love with Jesus, we’d find the power — the grace — to serve him would follow — not only more easily but more authentically. We’d find that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God is eager to fill us with his love. The love we’d then return to God, as the saints have taught us, would be God’s own love.
Perhaps stressing the love of God is difficult because it’s overwhelming, and demanding. Moralism has a narrower gauge — a comforting measure.
God’s love is fierce. He wants not just some of our love but all of it. He wants all of us. Think about that for a while and it will either take your head off or put it back on straight.
God’s love is actually what we want, too — to be known and to be loved are the human person’s deepest desires. We want to be loved completely, for all time. We want to belong utterly to someone. This is true passion. Only God can love us, without fail, in this way.
Christianity is the great romance. If you take the romance out of it and substitute moralism it dies — and then it rots and become putrid like a dead fish.
Usually at this point in the homily it’s time to bewail our manifold wickedness. “Go away from me, Lord: I am a sinful man!” as Peter exclaimed (Luke 5:8).
I had a lovely experience this week, however, which cheered me enormously and gave me a glimpse of the pleasure God takes in his people. I asked you to write about what you are doing for Lent, and you did in considerable numbers. The love for God displayed in these letters sent my heart sailing and made me incredibly happy that I’m working with Catholic Exchange. I kept saying to Margaret Schay, our Marketing Specialist, “Listen to this!”
Terry C. wrote that she is fasting too. “When I feel grumpy and hungry, I try to think of the poor who have no choice and feel that way every day of the year…the real result of fasting is a greater concern for the poor.”
Ann M., an overseas correspondent, writes, “I’m off chocolate, biscuits, ice cream, wine, crisps, cake…”
Stephen M. is devoting more time to his kids. “A very simple thing I do in our family — I make the lunches for our four children, ages 9-18. Each day in their lunch they bring [among other things] a single medium sized pretzel to school during Lent. The pretzel has an interesting religious history and serves as a daily reminder for the season.”
Gary G. is offering his Lenten practices on behalf of his son. “My son is a freshman in college. I was talking with him by phone the weekend after Ash Wednesday and asked him (hoping) if he had gone to Mass on Ash Wednesday. He really surprised (shocked!) me when he mentioned in passing a couple of things he was doing for Lent…we really wondered if he was going to truly embrace the faith. My Lenten prayers, fasting, and almsgiving have a new bounce in their step when I think of God’s great gifts for my son.”
Many wrote very personally about trials they are facing in their own lives and in the lives of their families and how their Lenten disciplines are helping them cleave to the Lord. Throughout, the messages shone with love for God. “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). That river is love.
Every good and perfect gift,
Harold Fickett, President, Catholic Exchange