June 2007

Understanding Love ©

In John’s Gospel, we find Jesus saying to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear then now.”

Jesus was predicting the arrival of the Holy Spirit, enabling his apostles to understand more profoundly the meaning of his teaching. Significantly, he says that they are not able to bear the fullness of truth. It is too taxing. Moreover, we know from the writings of Saint Paul that, even with the advent of the Holy Sprit, human understanding is only partial. (Cf. 1Cor.13: 12)

Presumably this is true for us as well. In fact, it takes a lifetime to even begin to get a grip on the most fundamental truths of our faith. Jesus knows how slow we are to understand his teachings. Also, he knows how slow we are to change our hearts and minds to follow him. Because he loves us, he is patient.

God knows we can only digest these lessons with very small bites. That’s why there’s a level of teaching that’s right for young children, and another for adolescents, another for young adults, another for parents and another for grandparents.

That’s why I find it difficult to preach to children and to adults at the same time. Theoretically at least, each is at a different stage. Each stage is special. Each has its own purpose, so each needs its own form of nourishment.

For the sake of those of us who need to be reminded of the most basic truths of our faith, I turn my attention to Psalm 8 because it reminds us of some very key principles.

In it, we read this verse, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established.” Let’s stop there. To know God, it’s not necessary to read long boring books about theology or even spirituality. It’s often sufficient to just look around
and to really become aware of what God has done. The writer of this psalm states that when he looks heavenward, he sees God’s own hand in the moon and the stars. He knows that no human has made these.

Then he adds, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” He asks what we all ask sooner or later. Why’s an all-powerful God, a God who’s created all of the wonders of the universe. A God’s who’s perfect and self-sufficient in every respect. Why’s a God like this mindful of the silly little lives of humans …humans that must look like ants from heaven? That’s our first image of God—sitting in heaven looking down on what he created, including us. If God made all this, I must be too puny for him to notice me, let alone care about me. But that’s not the case at all.

We know that God dwells in the human heart. We know from everything that God has done, especially sending his own Son to walk and live among us, to laugh with us and to cry with us, that he loves us very deeply.

We know that Jesus notices individuals, in particular little children, sick people, frightened people, confused people …and he’s touched their hearts. He’s given meaning to their lives, peace to their minds and joy to their hearts.

In fact, the writer recognizes how much God not only knows us but even esteems us. He writes, “You have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” That’s hard to believe sometimes. That’s where the dignity of each human being comes from. Not only were we made in God’s image but each person is just a little less than God. We were made in, through and for glory and honour.

Though we mustn’t get swelled heads about that and become self-centred, we certainly can rejoice in the fact that we exist, that we matter and that each one of us is special in God’s magnificent plan for creation.

In this plan, we all have jobs to do; important jobs. We have responsibility for ourselves. But we also have responsibility for what God has placed around us. Just as God cares for us, we’ve been given awesome responsibility to care for others as well as for all the works of his loving hands.

All these have been placed at our disposal for our enjoyment and use, but not for our abuse. All the animals of every land, all the fishes of the sea, the air that we breathe and the rivers, the oceans, the mountains and the forests, all of these are the works of God’s holy hands and he’s placed these in our care.

So you see we’re loved a lot by our families, our friends, and most especially by God. Also, we’re invited to find the meaning of our lives by loving a lot too.

To understand the love that God has for us, it helps to understand why he loves us. To do so, it’s helpful to recognize God as Trinity. What the Holy Trinity means is a mystery—three persons in one God. My little brain can’t make very much sense of that. But what I do get is the fact that our God is a God of loving relationships, of looking constantly outward to another. The Father loving the Son. The Son loving the Father. And by this forward action, their Spirit of Love blowing like a warm wind that fills every corner of creation.

But it doesn’t end there. These loving relationships are infinitely life-giving and creative. God—Father, Son and Holy Sprit—are like a whirlwind of creative love that embraces everything that was created by their love. That includes you and me.

Our God is not a selfish, irritable or vengeful God. Our God is a creating, caring and constant God. God loves you as through you were the only person in the world. But we know that we’re not the only person in the world.

Through the sacrament of Eucharist, we’re invited to join God’s caring and sharing, of giving and living fully and joyfully. What God has done for us, we must now do for one another—do this in memory of Jesus.

The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament of Trinity. Through it, God shows us the true meaning of love. Through it, the Father forgives our faults and welcomes us into communion with himself.
Through it, the Son offers us nourishment for the journey. Through it, the Holy Sprit fills us with courage, energy and wisdom for our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity recapitulates all the other mysteries of our faith, including Jesus’ Incarnation, Resurrection and bodily presence in the Eucharist. As well, it is the mystery of life itself and the inexhaustible font of truth and love. In turn, the Holy Eucharist is the ultimate manifestation and celebration of God’s triune nature.

The eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar shows in his works that the mysteries of Trinity, Creation and Incarnation all become real again and again for us in the Eucharist. The key to understanding this link is his interpretation of the writings of Saints John and Paul. In these, we see the Father’s self-emptying into Jesus at the time of the Incarnation, just as he has done throughout eternity. The Son’s return of self to the Father also takes place from all eternity in the Holy Sprit. The Eucharist celebrates the self-emptying of the Son on the cross, which would not have occurred without what preceded and followed.

Indeed, the Eucharist is the perpetual gift of the Son to the Father by the power of the Holy Sprit. And the glory for us is that we are swept up into this supreme act of unconditional and life-giving love by our faithful participation.

Knowing this in our mind and even in our heart makes it no less a mystery. We have eyes to see the work of the Father’s hands and ears to hear the words of the Son. But without the Sprit of God, we cannot fathom their meaning of love beyond the limit of what is perceptible by the senses and digestible by the human intellect. Yet, Saint Paul assures us that those who trust in God “have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.” (1Cor. 2: 10-13)