By: Msgr. Charles Pope
More often than not, the average Catholic thinks of the Commandments and the Christian moral life, as well as the spiritual life as a task, or list of tasks they must accomplish out of their own flesh power, or else they will face some negative consequence. Hence the moral life is seen by many as a drudgery and is carried out with little enthusiasm. Hence many will hear that they must be less angry, more generous, less vengeful, more chaste etc., and they think rules, and rules though necessary are uninspiring.
Few see the moral life as a magnificent vision of transformation in Christ and a portrait of a soul set on fire with love. More see the moral and spiritual life as a painful prescription more than a delightful description of what happens to the human person when Jesus Christ begins to live his life in them. Most see the most life as something thy must achieve rather than receive.
Of course “achievement” is neither grace, nor the gospel. And if salvation, transformation and perfection can be achieved, then who needs Christ?
Therefore, we must come to see the moral vision of the New Testament, with all its lofty and seemingly impossible demands as a description of what God will do for us, rather than a prescription of what we must do by our unaided flesh.
Consider the first and greatest commandment that we should Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut 6:5). Frankly most people, (in their flesh), have a hard time loving God. They find prayer tedious, and are lukewarm at best in their affection for God. Mass, Scripture, prayer and so forth seem boring endeavors to them and, though they find time for everything else, God often gets no time, or, at best, the leftovers of the day.
On hearing that they should love God, some will attempt to rouse themselves to “do better.” But the results are usually pretty discouraging, since they are usually attempts made out of the flesh which is inimical to God (cf Rom 8:7).
How then shall we get there? How does the human person attain to the normal Christian life which is to have a tender and intense love for God?
Consider the following passage from one of the lesser known Eastern Fathers of the Church:
Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God. In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him. When this awareness is keen it makes whoever possesses it long to be enlightened by the divine light, and this longing is so intense that it seems to penetrate his very bones. He loses all consciousness of himself and is entirely transformed by the love of God.
Such a man lives in this life and at the same time does not live in it, for although he still inhabits his body, he is constantly leaving it in spirit because of the love that draws him toward God. Once the love of God has released him from self-love, the flame of divine love never ceases to burn in his heart and he remains united to God by an irresistible longing.
From the treatise On Spiritual Perfection by St. Diadochus of Photice, bishop
(Cap. 12. 13. 14: PG 65, 1171-1172)
What St. Diadochus is describing here is the normal Christian life. Here the word “normal” is not used in the numerary sense that “most people attain this,” but in the sense of “what is to be expected.” How could it be that if Jesus Christ is living his life in us we would have anything less than a tender and longing love for God?
And note how Diadochus says this love begins in our experience of God’s love for us. Experience here means more than intellectual assent to the statement that “God loves me.” Rather, experience means just that, experience, to actually know, in a first hand way, and to witness the power and tenderness of God’s love for me. As it finally begins to dawn on us that the Son of God died for us, our hearts are steeped in God’s love. Yes, it finally begins to dawn on us that the Father’s providential love for us is unlimited and magnificent. Being filled with that love we now gain a joy, an affection, a serenity and an tender love of growing intensity for God.
More and more we delight to think of him, speak with him and simply sit quietly in contemplative union with God. And thus we journey, by stages to the normal Christian life, which is to have a deep affection and tender love and abiding desire for God.
Go to the Cross of Christ and ask this gift. Ask for the desire for this gift, if you don’t even have that. But ask, seek, knock. Our love for God is not, and cannot be our work. It is God’s work in us. And all He needs to get started is your “yes.” The door to your heart must be opened from the inside. Let God enter, and let him go to work filling you with his love.