As promised, here is the first chapter of my book “A Love Affair with God: Twelve Traits.” Merry Christmas!
An Unlikely Couple
To fall in love with God is the greatest romance;
to seek him, the greatest adventure;
to find him, the greatest human achievement.
~ St. Augustine
Do you ever lie awake at night in the dark and wonder, Does God exist? Why am I alive? Does God really love me—a mere mote in the mind-boggling expanse of countless galaxies, an imperfect mote at that? Or do you sometimes ask yourself, Am I doing enough to show I love God? What more could I do? If so, you are in good company. These niggling questions also haunted saints.
For some people, God is a powerful force, an impersonal energy that pervades the universe. Others view the deity as an intelligent being who created the cosmos and then abandoned it like a bored child who tosses toys in the corner. But for you, God is a Someone who made everything out of nothing and guides the world and its inhabitants with tender care.
You are God’s work of art, custom designed. You belong to God. Better still, God chooses to be in a dynamic personal relationship with you. Actually, this Supreme Being—whose love is infinite—is madly in love with you! God doesn’t just love you; he likes you. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD, pinpointed your primary vocation, or calling in life, when she counseled, “Let God love you.”
Sacred Scripture attests to God’s unparalleled love. The psalmist praises it in touching, although inadequate, imagery, proclaiming, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5). Furthermore St. Paul assured you of the permanence of divine love:“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
This divine Lover who loves you so passionately yearns for you to return his love not with just a part of your heart but with all your heart . . . and not part time but full time. Desperate for your love, God even demands it! Paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:5, Jesus identified the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Moreover, God does not nonchalantly wait for you to come to him but stalks you! He pursues you with dogged determination. Francis Thompson—who once was a poverty-stricken, homeless, drug addict—memorably portrays God’s persistence in his masterful poem “The Hound of Heaven.” He admits he fled . . .
From those strong Feet that followed,
But with unhurrying chase
And unperturbed pace
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
A definite challenge in cultivating an intimate relationship with God is that this Mysterious One is pure spirit and therefore invisible and intangible. He is a hidden Lover. You can never look into his eyes, hold hands, or feel his embrace. When God says, “I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand” (Isaiah 41:13), that is sheer poetry, only a metaphor.
True, some two thousand years ago God did assume a human body, but no one today really knows what this God-Man looked like. Jewish law forbade the making of images, and the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles leave the physical description of Jesus to our imagination. The figure on the Shroud of Turin was reputed to be imprinted by the body of Jesus, but scientific tests indicate that this is a false conjecture. Jesus now lives in heaven, his body glorified, but very seldom does he appear to people who dwell on earth.
Lack of physical presence, however, is not an insurmountable barrier to love. Before the poet Robert Browning ever met Elizabeth Barrett, he fell in love with her via her poetry. In his first of many letters to her, he wrote, “I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart—and I love you too.” Likewise, because you’ve read God’s books of creation and Scripture, the following words describe your personal relationship with the Author: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
Love culminates in the surrender of oneself and union with the beloved. You were created for absolute communion with God, which the English mystic Julian of Norwich termed “oneing.” In her book Revelations of Divine Love, an account of her sixteen mystical visions in 1373, she explained that we are knit to God in a tight knot that makes us oned. In this oneing we are also oned with other people who will reach heaven.
Scripture reveals and encapsulates Almighty God’s identity and essence in one preeminent attribute: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love, then, is your final destiny. Love is also your origin. From before time began, the three Persons in the Trinity formed a self-sustaining community, bonded by their love for one another. They could have been content forever with their three-partnered ecstatic “dance of love.” Yet, in their supreme goodness, the divine Persons were compelled to let their love overspill. Selflessly they brought human beings into existence to join in their dance.
God did not need creatures to worship or to serve him at all. Our lives are solely due to the generous outpouring of God’s love, a vast and bottomless love.
St. Catherine of Siena, OP, a fourteenth-century Doctor of the Church, thought of God as aflame with a fire of love. She prayed,
O unutterable love, even though you saw all the evils your creatures would commit against your infinite goodness, . . . you set your eye only on the beauty of your creature, with whom you had fallen in love like one drunk and crazy with love.
The explanation of our origin presented here answers the question, Why do I exist? It also gives a reason for our gnawing longing for “something more” no matter how much money, possessions, fame, or earthly happiness we enjoy. This longing is the consequence of the first human couple’s rebellion—Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience that severed our bond with God. The Fall deprived us of our original home and status as children of God and left us drifting. Now we are bedeviled by an inner sense that we are lacking something. That something is Someone.
Only the One who fashioned your heart will satisfy your heart. St. Augustine famously wrote in his autobiographical book Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Philosopher Blaise Pascal eloquently expressed our insatiable, deep down yearning as follows:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. (Pensées VII, 425)
This concept is popularly rendered, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart that only God can fill.” You are like a beautiful jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing.
Acknowledging that the ache is mutual, priest and theologian Henri Nouwen proposed, “It seems as if God is crying out to us, ‘My heart is restless until it rests in you, my beloved creation.’ ” God desires you! In fact, God longs for you more than you long for him.
You might be tempted to think that the idea of your being in a love relationship with God is absurd, irrational. After all, God possesses awesome majesty and power. The spectacular universe—stars, comets, black holes, and planets, including Earth—is all God’s handiwork. Its expanse is a mind-boggling unknown. In our Milky Way galaxy alone, there are a hundred billion stars pulsating with energy like our sun. Clearly God is infinitely greater than you, an imperfect mortal subject to colds and stomachaches, who doesn’t have the ability to fly or read minds, let alone create something from nothing.
How can love exist between Someone who is the Supreme Being, Totally Other, Ancient of Days and one of his creatures? The answer it grace, God’s gift of his own life poured into you. Grace divinizes you, thereby erasing the disparity and bridging the gargantuan chasm between you and God. Here is a weak analogy courtesy of the Brothers Grimm: Prince Charming’s love transforms Cinderella into royalty.
On the other hand, according to St. John of the Cross, your love for God establishes equality: “Since there is no way that God can exalt the soul more than by making her equal to Himself, He is pleased only with her love, for it is love that makes the lover equal to the object loved” (The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 28, 1).
The bottom line is that the love between God and you is an unfathomable mystery, a marvelous one at that!
Talk about a May-December romance: You are time-bound, born in a particular year, whereas God has existed from all eternity. Incredibly, God made the first move and initiated this extraordinary love relationship between him and you. You love God because “God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Moreover, at great risk God gave humans the option of rejecting his love. This led to disappointment, for the first couple proved unfaithful in the garden of Eden. The ever-merciful, ever-loving God forgave them and still forgives their descendants. At immense personal cost, namely the atoning sacrifice of his Son, God restored the possibility of our enjoying a close relationship with him.
God loves you more than you can imagine. He loves you personally, uniquely, and actively. And, like a door prize, divine love is completely gratuitous; you need not earn it by performing good works. And, yes, you will never be worthy of it. God, however, loves you just as you are and at times when you consider yourself ugly and unlovable. Even if you spurn God’s love, he will never let you go. Your sins and faults do not extinguish or even diminish his love for you. God cannot not love you; doing so would contradict his essence. He is the consummate Lover.
Certain of God’s love, you are filled with peace and deep, abiding joy. As writer Victor Hugo observed, “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather in spite of ourselves.”
In Scripture, God brazenly employs love imagery. Regarding Israel, God says, “I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14). God, who by the way is genderless, also professes, “As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). God’s most striking love language appears in the biblical book Song of Solomon, an erotic poem about two young lovers.
A Matter of the Heart
Jesus, who is Love incarnate, loved you to death, dying on a cross with arms outspread. There his heart, the symbol of love, was pierced by a lance. The heart is a synecdoche. Saying “I love you with my whole heart” means “with all that I am.” After ascending to heaven, Jesus continued to court you. He enticed you to love him through the image of his Sacred Heart burning with love long before anyone celebrated Valentine’s Day, when we are flooded with hearts. The title King of Hearts rightly belongs to Jesus, who conquered us by his extreme love.
In the seventeenth century during one of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s visions, Jesus revealed his divine-human heart, testified to his great love for everyone, and lamented that he was loved so little in return. Unrequited love is sad. Unrequited divine love is tragic.
In the twentieth century, Jesus reached out to reaffirm his love for us, dispelling any doubts. He asked St. Faustina Kowalska to inaugurate the Divine Mercy devotion, which is centered on God’s merciful love. In a vision, Jesus appeared with two rays emanating from his heart, one red and one white. He explained that these rays represented the blood and water that flowed from his heart when the soldier’s lance pierced it. Jesus instructed St. Faustina to see that this vision was painted. On first viewing the finished image, which was produced under her direction, St. Faustina wept in disappointment and lamented to Jesus, “Who will paint you as beautiful as you are?”
Aware of the importance of grasping the extent of Christ’s love for us, St. Paul prayed,
That Christ may dwell in your hearts though faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. . . . that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17–19)
Peter Van Breemen, SJ, noted that when we open our hearts to be filled to the brim with God’s love, this love overflows from us to other people. We are veritable vessels of God’s love.
So how should you love God? St. Bernard of Clairvaux provided the answer: “The reason for loving God is God himself; the way to love him is beyond measure.” Falling in love with God is natural and not difficult at all. His many attractive qualities, in particular his eternal goodness, kindness, and mercy, make him the lodestone of hearts.
• Why not spend some time during this Christmas season quietly letting God love you!
For your enjoyment: Something you don’t see or hear everyday.