This is the talk I wrote and gave at our most recent Women’s Retreat, which you can read about here!
THE TRUTH: GOD’S LOVE
In SPO we have a lot of catch phrases and over-used terminology, which I’m sure you’ve heard. “Receive what the Lord has for us,” “God desires our good,” and “have the Lord’s heart for his people.” What does that even mean, right? It’s easy for us to graze over phrases like these without giving them a second thought, but there’s one thing that we can’t afford to miss. There’s one thing that if we miss it, every other devotion or ambition we pursue–spiritual or otherwise–will be completely pointless: God’s love.
You’ll notice I quote the Catechism a lot in this talk. That’s because I want to emphasize that God’s love is not just a catchphrase, it’s a fundamental element of our Catholic faith.
1 Cor. 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
This reality is so important that Paul claims that to be a martyr would gain him nothing without it. What makes God’s love so important to us is that to share in it is the sole purpose for our very existence. The very first paragraph in the prologue of the Catechism–the prologue! That’s how much of a prerequisite it is–says this:
CCC Prologue I.1: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.”
That’s pretty cool, but we can’t really grasp what it means to share in God’s divine life–especially with our tainted view of love–or apply it until we know two things: who is God, and who are we to Him?
WHO GOD IS
“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself…”
God didn’t need us. He wasn’t lonely, he was perfectly content within Himself because He is Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery reveals so much to us of what God’s love really is. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in Trinitarian theology, but here’s how I’ve come to wrap my head around the Trinity: The Trinity is a perpetual community of unconditional love: God the Father loves the Son so perfectly and the Son receives and reciprocates the Father’s love so perfectly that it produces life, which is the Holy Spirit, who is the love between them. We see this reality reflected in the creation of the family–mother, father and child.
Before I expand on that, I want to clarify a few things about each individual person of the Trinity, because our terminology can skew our understanding of this Trinitarian relationship.
The Father, firstly, is neither male nor female. The Catechism states that, by referring to God as “Father,” our language of faith indicates “God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature.” (CCC #239) So He is not a father in the sense that we know a father to be, rather we call Him that because He is the source of all life and goodness, the one omnipotent authority, the initiator, creator and provider of all.
Jesus, the Son of God, is the Word made flesh. As John chapter 1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He always was, before becoming a man as we know Him now to be, and is only called “Son” in relation to his Father. Having said this however, it’s important to note that His love for the Father and the Father’s love for Him is more than that of a human father and a son; it’s even more perfect and intimate than the love between a husband and wife. In fact, all of our human relationships are a partial reflection of the relationship God has within Himself.
The Holy Spirit is the one sent by God the Father and the Son, from whom He “proceeds,” as we say in our Catholic Creed. Though still without beginning or end, He is born from the Love between the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is equally God, as we say in the Creed: “With the Father and the Son He is worshipped and glorified,” but He plays an interesting role in the Trinity. He is the fruit of God’s infinite love within Himself, which goes forth to point all creatures back to Himself.
These three, though one in the same God, are a sort of family within Himself, each pouring Himself infinitely out for the other. Tim Staples–the Director of Apologetics at Catholic Answers–describes it in this way:
“As an infinite act of love between the Father and Son, this “act” is so perfect and infinite that “it” becomes (not in time, of course, but eternally) a “He” in the third person of the Blessed Trinity. This revelation of God’s love personified is the foundation from which Scripture could reveal to us that “God is love” (I John 4:8). God is not revealed to “be” love in any other religion in the world other than Christianity because in order for there to be love, there must be a beloved. From all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have poured themselves out into each other in an infinite act of love, which we, as Christians, are called to experience through faith and the sacraments by which we are lifted up into that very love of God itself (Romans 5:1-5).”
Thus, God is actually love itself. This is not some cute phrase to make us feel better about ourselves! The Catechism confirms this:
CCC #221: God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.”
WHO WE ARE
“…in a plan of sheer goodness, [God] freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.”
Again, God didn’t need us. He created us simply so that He could love us with this same eternal exchange! He didn’t make us to be His slaves, or play-things or experiments to use. The Catechism states, “[Man] is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.” (CCC #356) Rather, we were created–as is written all over the Scriptures–to be His adopted children, the heirs to His throne–princesses! He calls us His beloved, His bride, His delight. Just to name a few Scriptural examples:
- His friend: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” –Jn. 15:15
- His child: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” –1 Jn. 3:1
- His daughter: “I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” –2 Cor. 6:18
- His heir: “…and if children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” –Rom. 8:17
- His bride: “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name.” –Is. 54:5
- The apple of His eye: “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me in the shadow of thy wings…” –Ps. 17:8
That’s who we are to Him! And we had that once… The first man lived in perfect union with God, as we were meant to. We were sharers of the family of God, part of that amazing love that exists within the Trinity. And we lost it. But since then, God has relentlessly fought to bring us back as an expression of his undying love for us; and O, what a love.
O, HOW HE LOVES US
“For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man…”
CCC #219: “God’s love for Israel is compared to a father’s love for his son. His love for his people is stronger than a mother’s for her children. God loves his people more than a bridegroom his beloved; his love will be victorious over even the worst infidelities and will extend to his most precious gift: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” “God’s love is everlasting. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.”
This Love that we’ve discovered in the Trinity is a very different picture of love than what our human experience has painted, though. Maybe you didn’t have a good experience with your mom, or maybe your dad was abusive. Maybe the only experiences you’ve had in romantic relationships have resulted in abandonment or shame. It’s hard not to project those experiences on our God. However, if God Himself is love, we can use 1 Cor. 13:4-7 as a way to reclaim the truth of what His love is to us.
“[God] is patient, and kind; [God] is not jealous or boastful; [He] is not arrogant or rude. [God] does not insist on [His] own way; [He] is not irritable or resentful; [He] does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. [God] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
So when we use these comparisons we need to remember that we are not comparing God to our personal experience of a father, mother, brother, friend or lover, but to the purified versions of those relationships. In these parallels, we also see the distinct love of each individual person of the Trinity: God the Father, who is our Provider; the Son, who is our Protector; and the Spirit, who is our Power to know the Father and the Son.
The Provider: God the Father, the creator of all, takes a parental role in His love for us. He provides us with our every need, whether spiritual or temporal, so long as what He provides is pointing us back to our original purpose. Unlike our fallen earthly fathers, God is without sin or any limitation whatsoever, and he delights in pouring out His blessings upon us. We see that in In Luke 11:11 when He reminds us that if we “who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” We see it in the story of the Prodigal Son, in which he receives his squandering son with joyful open arms, unconditionally, mercifully, and patiently. And, my personal favorite example of this paternal provision, is found in Luke 12:22-32:
“I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you that are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
This puts a whole new depth to the common catchphrase, “God has good things for His children”!
The Protector: Jesus is sacrificial Savior, our relentless Redeemer, fighting protector and proof of just how far our God will go to bring us back! There are many parallels we can use to understand Jesus’ love for us–he’s a teacher, he’s a leader, he’s a savior–but I’m going to focus on his love for us as a bridegroom to his beloved. We see his undying faithfulness all throughout the Old Testament, even when time and time again His people were unfaithful to Him, and we see his fighting, passionate, protective side in how He draws them back.
Hos. 2:19-20: “I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.”
Is. 62:1: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.”
He will not rest until we are restored to our original purpose. God doesn’t sleep! He will fight for you endlessly until you are His precious bride once more. What girl doesn’t want to be fought for like that?! And again we see this parallel in the New Testament in Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross.
Eph. 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
The Power: A great friend or sibling keeps us on the right track even when it’s hard, and this is what the Holy Spirit does. He loves us by perpetually moving us towards that one true good that we were destined for, and it is only by his power that we can begin to do so on earth.
1 Cor. 12:3: “…no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
Jn. 16:12: I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…”
When we receive Him, we have the power to grasp realities that are beyond our human understanding. In this we can choose to “seek, know and love God” as that first paragraph of the Catechism says, and begin to enter into that perfect love He has for us.
This brings me to my last point. We can choose to reject this gift. God gave us free will, and as St. Augustine says, “God who created you without you, will not save you without you.” The Catechism states, “It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment. By his deliberate actions, the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God.” We need to actively receive God’s love–which is what Cate is going to talk about next. For now, let us contemplate the marvelous mystery that is God’s love for us.