May 18, 2020

"God loves you"
He sees what we cannot see in ourselves... yet.

RC questions my affirmation: “God loves you the way you are.”

She writes,

Father, I have a need for clarification:

You used the expression about God’s love for me: “He loves me just the way I am.”

I take umbrage at that expression, as well as the adjective ‘unconditional’ about love.

Now, I think that what you meant in telling me that God loves me just as I am is that he doesn’t want me to think that because of the sins I repent of and the defects I deplore that He doesn’t love that self of mine, precisely as He sees me repenting and struggling. He doesn’t want me to think all day:

RC – sinner and weak miserable wretch.

Instead, he wants me to think all day something more like “RC, in God’s eyes, you are so dear and beautiful struggling so hard and loving Me and My grace as I make you everyday a better vessel of My love.”

However, since possibly half the Church members think of unconditional love as meaning that God loves us so much that He doesn’t care if we miss Mass just to sleep in sometimes, or that we are homosexual lovers, or that we use contraception…

I don’t like to hear those words ‘unconditional’ and ‘love you just as you are.’

RC,

When I tell you that “God loves you just the way you are” I agree that my words can be easily misunderstood. I certainly do not mean that God’s love is irrelevant to His justice. If we die in a state of mortal sin His love will have proven inefficacious. Allow me to explain myself.

What I am saying here can be summarized by the truth: “Baptized Christians are loved unconditionally by the Father in Christ Jesus.”

In the state of Grace, you truly are “in Christ.” He dwells within you. In fact, mysteriously, you reveal His Presence. Each of us, the baptized, are a part of Christ. We are His body. We know from Scripture and Sacred Tradition that the baptized are individually members of the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ extends universally to include all the baptized, it also includes each individual member as a revelation of ‘Christ’, albeit imperfect because of the ‘veil’ of a humanity that will not achieve its perfection until the next life.

So when the Church speaks of the Trinitarian love of the Father for the Son she includes necessarily the love of the Father for the Church as Christ (the whole of the Mystical Body) and His love for each individual believer as His son or daughter in Christ.

The Father wills that we discover who each of us is as a “new man” in Christ… as St. Paul would say. This “new man” is the model, so to speak, of growth into our likeness to Christ. Becoming that “new man,” that “new woman” in Christ is the purpose of the Christian life, a life that brings us to a fullness of being. So this is the subject of my response to you.
 
I begin by declaring again that God loves you. Whether your soul is in a state of sin or grace is irrelevant to the love He has shown for you. Christ died for each one of us for love, while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8). How He so desires to bring us to the perfection of His love!
 
Regretfully our sins keep us from recognizing the purpose of His love. To be able to “see” His purpose for our lives, to see Him in ourselves ‘in Christ’ is a grace. It is merited by faithful obedience to His will, which is that we love… as He loved. But we must always remember that we can love ‘as He loved’ only because He first loves us (1 Jn 4:19). So the first step in achieving perfection in His love is believing in His love. It is then that we begin to “see” His Image in ourselves.

Love is a supernatural virtue that God must bestow.

I know that God’s love is very difficult for us to grasp, for it requires Faith, and the rejection of anything that Faith reveals to be contrary to that love… that is sin. Yes we think of His love for us. And at times we feel it.  But having it always abide in our hearts is something else. When we achieve a higher level in the spiritual life, it is then that His love will abide always in our hearts.

Love is a supernatural virtue that God must bestow. It requires correspondence and grows within us by habitual practice. This growth is not easy.  Our “flesh” fights against our efforts to obey and love as He wills us to love. But it does get easier. Jesus said (paraphrasing), “if you love me you will keep my commands and I will love you and reveal Myself to you.” This truth is simple. He reveals Himself through His love for us. His self-revelation is contingent upon our corresponding to that love… by obedience to His commandments, which is loving as He loved. But remember that it is always Christ loving through us. That is the nature of Grace.
 
Now here is the truth to obtaining the grace of keeping His commandments. God sees me mysteriously as the person He foresaw me to be: His new creation in Christ. He ‘loves’ me into becoming that person. Being the object of His love is not some pie-in-the-sky theological idea. God loves real persons, the persons we are… the real you as His daughter RC.
 
We believe that the Father foresaw you the moment He created the world… as His! This truth can liberate one from false self-love or pride. Shameful pride was symbolized by the fig leaves of Adam and Eve. They hid from God. In selfish pride, we still ‘hide’ behind the poor person we think we are because of our sins. This hiding, often unconscious, makes pride the most deadly of capital sins. It causes us to want to be somebody we’re not. On the contrary, humility is the capacity to accept myself as I am… before Him. It is a freedom to be transparent, to stand without shame before God, and man, in the righteousness of Christ.
 
By faith I stand before God in humility. In the nakedness of my sinfulness,  He will bestow the grace of conversion and wash away my sins. I am content and complete in who I am in Christ because of this grace. This is despite my past failings.  This is the wonder of love… just as in the parable of the prodigal son. He will never reject His own…
 
St. Paul can say that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). In Christ, God does not reject you. And how much more will He respond to your desire, your ‘hope’ to know His love. I am thinking of St. Paul’s words now to the Romans. He writes, “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5). And elsewhere he writes that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.”
 
Therefore our task in this spiritual life, is to believe and  hope in His love… and that hope will not disappoint us… because His love frees us from the desire to sin and, more importantly, heals our weakness towards sin. So the challenge for all of us is to believe in His love.
 
His love for you is personal. In fact, everyone who comes to know His love is surprised as to ‘why one could be so beloved of Him.’ What a wonderful thing! Once we experience this everything else in life pales and our lives find their true purpose. Without this ‘personal’ relationship with God we will tend to measure His love for us based upon external things… what we do to be worthy of it. Or, worse, falsely presume that He loves us as justification for our sinning, as you so wisely note.

God’s love sets us free from the power, the will to sin.

St. John writes, “Whoever loves… in such a person there is no cause for stumbling” (1 Jn 2:10). He who loves no longer falls into sin! In believing in His personal love we are empowered to  choose the holier way. It is written: “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY'” (1 Pet 1:15-16). We are not born saints, rather we come to be saints by the gift of God: Faith. And to the degree we believe and obey, Christ will reveal Himself to us and we will love Him above all else. He who loves does not sin.

Jesus said,“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you the Holy Spirit” (Jn 14:15,16). The Gift of His Spirit is given to those who love Him above all else and have proven it by their faithfulness in trial… the necessary “Nights” of the spiritual life. His love grows gradually depending upon our correspondence to grace. There are no shortcuts. Perhaps this gradualness weeds out the lukewarm, half-hearted followers of Christ.

I like what Edith Stein (St. Benedicta of the Cross) writes, “How can human beings attain to the love of God, whom they do not see, unless God loves them first?” Of course Edith is quoting St. John. She then responds to her own question of how we attain to the love of God: “But in order to give ourselves to him in love we must first learn to know him as the divine lover.”  But it all comes back to the simple conviction that we hold to by faith, a conviction that grows steadily as we nurture it. Listen to what St, Diadiochus wrote, “The measure of a person’s love for God depends on how deeply they are aware of God’s love for him or her.”

Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9)? We abide in His love by making frequent spiritual communions. This is the practice of extending our Holy Communions at Mass throughout the whole day. And I know that you are a daily communicant RC. Frankly, I do not know how we can come to this degree of awareness of God’s love without the Holy Eucharist. 

St. Augustine so wisely said, “Love and do what you will.” 

In conclusion, living in His love puts us under what St. James calls the “Law of Freedom” (2:12). It is that wonderful “freedom” to love… which says no to sin. All the saints knew this love inasmuch as they achieved perfection. Again, he who loves does not sin. It is not merely our own power whereby we love, but the Holy Spirit acting and loving within us.

How do we receive this power of the Holy Spirit, this power to be loved and to love in turn? Of course, we must ask for it… and believe that we will receive it. Again, it comes down to humble Faith that begins as a mustard seed and grows into a large tree. Belief is like a switch that turns on the working of the Holy Spirit, for God wills to reveal Himself and give Himself to us. Yes, I first need renounce all sin… of course. Then the Holy Spirit comes so as not to merely cover over our concupiscence. Rather, He transforms us from within, gradually and gently. The Holy Spirit is imaged as a gentle dove. He is Gift. Our Father will not deny this Gift to His children who seek Him and their destiny in Christ. Our destiny, what God created us for, is eternal love.

To believe in this Gift of His love should be the the act of Faith we make at the start of every prayer. To seek to grow in this personal relationship with Him should be the purpose of our entire life. A life beginning here that simply continues into the next life in heaven. Truly each one us is loved specially and uniquely now and for all eternity.

In conclusion,

St. Augustine said, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek Him, the greatest adventure; and, to find Him, the greatest human achievement.” The Saints achieved the love of heaven in this life and so can you and I, RC!

Fr. Michael Hinken SOLT is a priest of

the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. 

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