Wednesday 16 February 2022

In love with God

‘Love is of God: and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God; for God is love.’ (1 John 4:7–8)

Jacob is not perhaps one of the more attractive characters in the Hebrew Scriptures. When we meet him in Genesis 25, he is a smooth, crafty little man, with no heart, concerned only with his own prospects, living by his wits rather than by hard work. Remember how he robbed his own brother of his father’s blessing and fled the consequences. No sign, as yet, of his becoming the great Patriarch! And yet, despite his deception, Jacob was chosen by God and privileged to be given not one, but two glimpses of heaven. The first was when he saw that ladder pitched between heaven and earth, with the angels ascending and descending. The second time was when he looked into Rachel’s eyes and fell headlong in love with her, showing that somewhere, deep down, he had a very human heart. We read how Jacob, having put himself out to move the heavy stone from the well, then watered the girl’s flock for her. He kissed her, and so full of love was he that he wept for joy and willingly bound himself to serve her father for seven years, in order that he might marry her. Surely falling in love is a foretaste of heaven, or at least it tells us something about the love of God for us and the love which we should have for Him.

I know, it is very easy to be dangerously sentimental when talking about love — either for God or anyone. Besides, the word has become so utterly debased, that when we speak of love, it seems to have very little in common with what we might mean in the context of faith and religion. For example, some may our find speaking of the Church as ‘the bride of Christ’ somewhat extravagant, or for that matter, wonder how on earth the Song of Songs ever made it into the canon of Scripture? We coyly tend to say that the Love of God isn’t like that kind of human love — and call it ‘Charity’ and a ‘theological virtue’; and yet, we are presented by St Paul, with a Christ who is shown as loving the Church with a love that is passionate and wholly sacrificial.

At my ordination, one of Charles Wesley’s marvellous hymns was sung. Forgive me if I quote it in full:

O love divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my longing heart
All taken up by thee?
I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me.

Stronger his love than death or hell;
Its riches are unsearchable:
The first-born sons of light
Desire in vain its depth to see;
They cannot reach the mystery,
The length and breadth and height.

God only knows the love of God;
O that it now were shed abroad
In this poor stony heart!
For love I sigh, for love I pine;
This only portion, Lord, be mine,
Be mine this better part.

For ever would I take my seat
With Mary at the Master's feet:
Be this my happy choice;
My only care, delight, and bliss,
My joy, my heaven on earth, be this,
To hear the Bridegroom’s voice!

Thy only love do I require,
Nothing on earth beneath desire,
Nothing in heaven above:
Let earth and heaven, and all things go,
Give me thine only love to know
Give me thine only love.

There’s nothing cold or rigid here, is there? ‘For love I thirst, for Love I pine!’ ‘My only care, delight and bliss, my comfort here on earth be this, to hear the Bridegroom’s voice.’ You may have noticed how often Our Lord was particularly fond of using weddings as subjects for some of his parables.

Here at the Oratory, we have many weddings each year. It is always a joy to meet with these young (and sometimes, not so young) couples who, having found each other and fallen in love, now want to bind their lives together in that covenant we call marriage. Whenever we encounter two people who have fallen in love, we should rejoice and smile with them, rather than view their joy with a weary, jaundiced eye and a cynical indifference — which is so unattractive, so un-Christlike! The lover looks on his beloved and sees in her (and vice-versa) something of no ordinary beauty, grace and goodness, which others may not see with such intensity, if at all. The true lover looks on the beloved with something akin to adoration and with utter humility in their presence. I’ve seen it many times — a humble gratitude mixed with the joy which comes from knowing that the other has responded to their love, not with a slap in the face or a harsh rebuff, but with a wonderful and full return of their affection. And it does — it must — work both ways.

Now, what does this suggest to us about God’s love for us and ours for Him? That He loves us, we cannot doubt — though we may well wonder what on earth He sees in us that He finds loveable. Still, we read in the Gospels all that our Lord did and endured for love of us, and isn’t it truly wonderful to be so loved, and humbling, giving rise to great joyfulness. This is evident in the lives of the saints. Our own dear St Philip, was universally known for his joyful spirit, which came from knowing how much he was loved by God. Grasp that and we too can experience ‘the peace of God which passes all understanding’.

The notion of being in love with God is one which had never occurred to me, until a Pentecostal Christian friend at College remarked of our local Catholic priest, ‘that man is really in love with God’ — and he certainly was. It was glowingly self-evident, just as it is in couples who are deeply in love with one another, which is not to say that it is always easy: ‘the course of true love etc’! Yet Paul teaches us: ‘Love endures all things’. Mere poetry? Just a nice idea? I suppose Jacob, must have loved Rachel very much to have been prepared to labour for seven years to win her hand. Yet, such was his love for the girl in whose eyes he had glimpsed heaven, those years seemed like days to him. Such should be our love for the Lord. It may seem a long way off being reality in our lives, but we can pray for a ‘love which believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things’, and moreover, a love which never ends.

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