October 04, 2013

He Loved Us First

Occurred to me on the morning commute that all the old pop songs that I sung passionately in my youth (mainly in the shower) were directed towards a future unnamed love interest. “The Impossible Dream” from the Don Quixote musical is one example, as well as “Wichita Lineman”. I sang with emotion, imagining myself saying these words to a lovely young maiden. This is natural, no doubt. Men are expected to be the pursuers in the earthly love game.

But I never imagined or considered the possibility of being the recipient of the emotions of the those songs. I never thought a woman would hunger for me like that and if one did I'd surely think her mad or desperate. And certainly I hardly conceived of God as thinking of me in those terms, as wanting me or needing me (understanding that God's "need" is somewhat of a hyperbole given that He is not contingent).

But I think I had a tendency to underestimating his love and I think it's confirmed by my perhaps exaggerated reaction to a homily I heard about ten years ago. I was floored when the homilist preached on the story of the Good Samaritan and not, as is typical, making it about the bone-dry (if always needful) lesson of serving others. No, he mentioned that Christ was the Good Samaritan to us, that Jesus found us bleeding by the side of the road nearly dead with personal and original sin, and helped us up and bandaged our wounds and gave us to the care of the hospital (the Church). It was about as life-changing a homily as I've ever heard because it gave me permission to see Jesus as not simply telling me how to see others, but in actively seeing me the very way he says I should be seeing others, i.e. with love! That turned-upside-down reading of the parable was like a balm and I'll always have a soft spot for that particular priest. How incredible a hermeneutic it was to be able to turn Our Lord's stern words as not only applying to us, but also applying to Himself concerning us!

Our current pastor is stingy with such interpretations, always preaching on human effort and rarely on God's love or grace. Presumably priests assume we already understand that God thirsts for us and gives us abundant grace. And I certainly understand the need to challenge us, living as we do in the wealthiest of civilizations and ever prone to complacency. But sometimes you want to hear about love.

I think part of my difficulty stemmed from a former imperfect understanding of creation, of seeing it as “of God but not by God” in a sense. In other words, I held a more Deist notion that God set things in motion held sway in my earlier years given that with evolution He didn't have much to do with creating us individually (our parents did, and the chance of egg and sperm).

Eventually I came, with God's help and grace, to a more concrete awareness and faith in the soul and that a special creation was involved with that. Here, at last, was something parents (and chance) didn't provide, and God was fully in action! The soul was my inroads to a personal God; I felt as though God was in creation on a real-time basis given the constant production of souls. (Of course, God is outside time and souls aren't material and such but this was my perception at the time.)

It's perhaps related that I was so bowled over by the apparition at Medjugorje. Wow, here was an active God! Not just parceling out an apparition for a week or few months every fifty years or so, but a God who would have his mother talk with us consistently for years on end in a continuing apparition. 

I remember a few years ago going to a carwash done by the evangelical Vineyard church my wife attends. I offered to pay something for it and was turned down. I tried again, referring to it as a donation. “It's free….like grace,” they said. The whole point of the exercise wasn't to raise funds for the church or for a worthy cause like but was simply to showcase God's grace. I was taken aback by it, and it reminds me how Catholics do have the reputation of thinking we have to earn our way to Heaven (which of course has pretty wide Scriptural warrant, starting with the book of James). Unfortunately, because of my native laziness, I can never tell how much of my appreciation for grace (i.e. free gift') is reasonable and how much is an excuse to be lazy.

Ham o' Bone once emailed an atheist co-worker one line: "God loves you."  I thought at the time it wasn't the most persuasive of evangelistic techniques, but now I find it growing on me...

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