Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ephesians 2:4b

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . (Ephesians 2:4)

In the last lesson we looked at the riches of God’s mercy. Let’s look now at the reason for God’s mercy – “Because of the great love He had for us” -- even as we were shaking our fists in His face.

For some, it is easy to nod in assent to the idea that “God loves me.” Life is good. Serious problems, illnesses and setbacks rarely knock on their front door. They have friends, family, a good income, and a comfortable life.

But what of those for whom the story of Job is a mirror of their own existence? What of those who wake up each morning in chronic pain, or with unrelenting memories of a devastating divorce, or who grieve over a child or spouse who is slowly dying with terminal illness?

For many of them, it is not so easy to nod in agreement when they read of “the great love He had for us.”

At one time I gave glib answers to people who asked, “Where is God’s love in my situation?” I gave glib answers because I was young and, in retrospect, insensitive to the things life can throw at us.

I now know better. And so I respond more along the lines of, “I don’t know where you can see His love in your situation. I only know it is there because He says it is.”

“And God never lies.”

St. Therese of Lisieux is one of my favorite Saints of the Church. She died a painful, slow and suffocating death from tuberculosis when she was 24. Yet, her confidence in God’s love led her to write something all Christians would do well to assimilate into their lives:

"Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our father's love — difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs — everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness — Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events — to the heart that loves, all is well."

Sometimes, during my daily meditation with the Lord, I close my eyes and imagine myself sitting at the foot of Calvary’s cross. Jesus hangs above me, and I lean back on the beam planted in the ground. I usually sit in silence, listening to Him breathe. I don’t speak because I know all He wants is to have someone stay with Him as He dies.

But every now and then I turn my head until I see His nailed feet. They are at eye level as I sit. Blood, where it has not already clotted, still oozes from the wound. And I glance up at Him. He looks terrible. Bruised. Swollen from the beatings. Blood caked around His eyes and cheeks from the crown of thorns.

When the thought passes across my mind, How do You love me? that scene in my imagination answers the question.

It's an image that can answer everyone’s question.

Divorce. Tragedy. Pain. Loneliness. Death. Jesus suffered so we would not have to. He died so we can live. He loved – and loves – so we can have a supernaturally based peace that confounds even hell itself.

But I have learned we must choose to love God – to choose to love Him despite the despair that hangs over us.

I quoted Fr. Pedro Arrupe at the beginning of our study in Ephesians. This is a good place to quote him again:

What you are in love, with what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you'll do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love [with God]. Stay in love, and it will decide everything.

How does one fall in love with God?

Persistent prayer, reading and studying Scripture, receiving the Sacraments with integrity each plays an important role. But all those things are, in my view, valueless without the grace of God to draw us to Himself.

In Solomon's Song of Songs, the Bride says to her Groom, "Draw me after you and let us run together!” Through His prophet, Jeremiah, God said, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness." Centuries later, the Lord Jesus reiterated, “No one can come to Me unless the Father draw him.”

Neither you nor I will get through life without heartache. Nonetheless, the Lord said He came to give us an abundant life. And that is why St. Therese of Lisieux and Fr. Arrupe had it right, because abundant life is rooted in our recognition that everything is a grace because everything is the direct result of our Father’s great love for us. And, as Fr. Arrupe wrote, our love for Him will affect everything we do, and it will affect how we respond to things that happen to us.

Questions for Reflection:

1. St. Francis de Sales wrote, "In the royal galley of Divine Love, there is no galley slave: all rowers are volunteers." How do you understand this statement in light of some of the things you read in this study?

2. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque wrote, What a weakness it is to love Jesus Christ only when He caresses us, and to be cold [when] he afflicts us. This is not true love. Those who love thus, love themselves too much to love God with all their heart.

Do you see yourself in her statement? If so, what will you do to correct yourself?

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