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Ignatian Retreat

(July 1974)

Love of God

Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

There are many reasons why the love of God should be the object of our frequent meditation and of our prayer. The main reason is that in order to serve God the way we should, although we need a substratum of mental condition, we have to see the intellectual reasons why God ought to be served. Nevertheless, more than condition we need commitment.

The really great things for God are not done because people are intellectually convinced, least of all on the mere rational grounds that God is their Creator and therefore He should be obeyed, that God is their destiny and therefore they should exert themselves in order to reach the goal of their existence. What really moves us is not argument, but affection. What really makes us achieve is not mere mental certitude; it is love. In order, therefore, to do anything worthwhile and especially to do anything great for God, we must not only be sure that we are to serve Him, we must love Him. Love is what achieves.

The love of God is so important in the spiritual life, helping us to overcome such difficulties that intellectually alone we should never be willing even to face let alone struggle with. More practically important, however, is how we should love God. The pattern is the way God has been and is loving us.

God has been loving us, just because He is God, with the most perfect selflessness. Why do we say that? Because God, being infinite, meaning all-perfect and possessing all the goodness and riches that it is possible to have, did not need any of His creatures, least of all us. His love for us, therefore, is completely selfless. His only motive for loving anyone outside of Himself is in order to benefit the one whom He loves; there is no possible advantage to God.

Sometimes we have to do violence to our thinking to even wrap our minds around the concept. Though we speak of pleasing God or of offending Him, Christ tells us it is impossible for us to assist God, to make Him more happy, or to give Him anything which He needs. The very idea of God needing anything is a denial of God. It is a mystery, but that is the way He has been loving us, selflessly. Consequently, if we are to love God in return, we should love Him with as complete selflessness as we as creatures are capable.

The words may not be too easy to explain, but practically this means doing God's will and not because we get any satisfaction out of it. God is good. He knows the clay of which we are made. He will give us consolation and comfort, but that is up to Him.It is up to us to love Him just because we loveHim, without seeking or asking, or worse still wondering and worrying what we might get out of it.

But secondly, we may ask, "When did God begin to love us?" We are tempted to say that He began to love us when we came on the scene. We suppose there has to be somebody to love in order to be loved. Not so!God, being infinite, loved usfrom all eternity. God never began to love us; He always did. What an overwhelming thought: However, we are looking at God as the paradigm of how we are to love Him. Clearly we cannot imitate Him in that for the best of reasons. Not too long ago we just were not.

But, if we ask, since God had loved us from all eternity, what if that is all He had done? Suppose by a figment of the imagination we were around somewhere back in the eons of eternity and had complained to the Lord, "Lord, I really appreciate your loving me.I do, honest. But would you mind doing somethingabout it?" And suppose He asked, "Like what?" "Well, Lord, I hate to give you any suggestions, but though you surely love me, would you mind bringing me into existence? I would appreciate it. "We did not have to remind Him. He loved us perfectly fromall eternity and He did do something about it. In other words, God's love for us is not merely affective; it has been effective. God did and is doing something about His love for us. So in spirit we can love Him and mean it.

But let us reverse the roles. If the Almighty would say, "Now I really appreciate your telling me how much you love me. Honestly, I do. But would you mind doing something about your love for me?" "Like what?" we would ask. "Well, like doing all the things that I have been suggesting for so long!"

Our love for God, therefore, should be effective, productive. We are to achieve something and not merely in the depths of our heart tell Him. Let us not misunderstand the Lord. He really appreciates it; He does. But as Saint Ignatius says in the spirit of God's revelation, "True love is shown far more by what we do than by what we say." Many wives have told me this about their husbands, "I wish he would stop all that poetry and really prove that he loves me."

But God's love as we know has not only been selfless and effective; it has in a mysterious way been laborious. We usually don't conceive of God as working, as laboring. Let us look at ourselves, going back to the first rationally conscious moment of our lives. What has been pretty much the history of our spiritual career? Most of us are not proud of it because it has been One refusal or unwillingness to cooperate with God's grace after another. By now you would think that God would have said, "Who does she think I am? I am God!"

I trust you have all read Francis Thompson's poem "The Hound of Heaven". Isn't that the picture of God with relation to us? Talk about working at His love for us when so much of the time we are quite literally running away. The effort, humanly speaking, that we have cost God only He really knows. But we are dealing with mystery. We are scratching on granite, trying to climb Mt. Everest on our hands and knees. Nevertheless, insofar as we can understand the words, God has been loving us laboriously and we are to love Him correspondingly.

In a conversation that Mother Cabrini had with Pope Leo XIII just before she was to go back to the United States, after one of her many trips to Rome, in parting the Pope told her, "Cabrini, let us love God with the sweat of our brows." We must work at it, and the work is not only physical, but spiritual. We have to work at the defects of our nature that God wants us to overcome and at prayer. Work is effort in spite of resistance. A cynic once defined work as "that which we would rather not be doing if we could be doing something else." That is the natural man talking.

We all know God wants us to labor at our love for Him. God, being infinitely happy, could not show His love for us by suffering unless He had become man. Faith tells us that God loves us sacrificially, that He loved us and loves us even to sacrificing Himself for us. Sacrifice is the surrender of something precious for someone you love. And it had better be something precious! If it isn't, it is either good riddance or good business, but it is not sacrifice. Sacrifice is the giving up of something we love.

It is no secret whom we love the most. The sacrifice must be, therefore, of self, letting go and not merely with the hands but with the heart. And the more God wants us to love Him, the more precious things He will put into our lives as opportunities for sacrifice.Leave it to God; He is a cunning lover.He will put loves into our lives in order that having learned what it means to really love Him, we will perhaps reluctantly at first, but finally generously let go with our hearts.

Finally, if we ask, "Why has God been and does He love us?"—is it only that He might give us so many wonderful things in our lives, beginning with the one creature that we most appreciate, ourselves? Unless He had first given us ourselves, we couldn't enjoy anything else. "Thanks, Lord, for me!"

But beginning with that "me" which He gave us, out to all the things that He has bestowed upon us and all that He still plans to give, is that the real reason why God loves us? Is that the ultimate of His generosity towards us? No. Faith tells us He made us not only to give us all sorts of creatures, beginning with that most dearly loved creature that bears my name. His intention in loving us is finally to give us nothing less than Himself. We believe that although we just approximate it here, we shall have the fulfillment of it in eternity when in a way that language cannot tell us what it means, we shall possess God.

The lesson is obvious, though it would seem from the more books that we peruse and the more laws of the Church or of God that we are bidden to obey, the more we are likely to think that what God really wants from us is all these things that we do for Him. Yes, He does, but only as stepping stones or as instruments to what He really wants from us. God wants us, ourselves.

Now this is not a pious platitude.It implies thatperhaps after years of effort we may look back and have to say regretfully, "Lord, if my love were measured by the worship I gave after so long, if this love that you ask me to show you were to be proved by the achievements I have made, is it any wonder I would be discouraged?" Consequently, let us remind ourselves often in His presence that we should never measure our generosity towards God by what we seem to have achieved for Him, because at best it is not too much. What we should tell Him, because He wants us to say it, is, "Lord, you know what I have been and you know my heart now. I give you myself."

It is this generosity in giving ourselves back to the God who made us that He really wants, often in spite of and almost because of the very infirmities of our natures and the past sins we have committed. It is the will that God wants, or in the language of Scripture, the heart. That makes up for everything else. That we can all give Him because, and surely this is a great mystery, though God is almighty, not quite whatever He wants takes place. In a way we cannot comprehend, He has given us liberty. And provided we tell Him, "Take, 0 Lord, and receive my liberty", He is pleased. That is why He made us, so we might freely give ourselves to Him as He has surely freely been giving and will give Himself to us.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

Transcription of the Ignatian retreat given and recorded on July, 1974
by Father John A. Hardon, S.J. to the:

Handmaids of the Precious Blood

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