September 14, 2019 – Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
At the recent workshop in Mexico City for young-ish Marist Brothers (mentioned last week!), one exercise asked us to consider different aspects of our lives that influence psycho-emotional health. These included the biological, spiritual, social, and professional domains which were divided into further sub-categories. Our task was to self-evaluate how we were each doing in these different areas, so that we could notice which ones needed more attention in our respective lives. One of the sub-categories under the social domain was “amorous relationships”… Yikes! Seems like a loaded topic for a group of chaste celibates. In this context might the term just have meant any strongly loving relationship?
After we’d had some time to work, the presenter asked some follow-up questions just to make sure we were understanding everything. When asked what would be an amorous relationship for religious brothers like ourselves, everybody responded quickly and clearly: our relationship with God, of course.
Part of me might have smirked on the inside.
I mean, I know that’s supposed to be the right answer, and I do love God. But passionately? What does it even mean to be amorous with God? I’m not pretending to be St. Teresa, regardless of how much I admire her. I have my own way of trying to be holy. Sometimes I do it well, and sometimes I don’t. I pray, go to Mass, read Scripture, serve God’s people, try to live my vows with integrity, so what more is there? God and I have had our honeymoon, and now we’ve settled into a comfortable routine. Good enough, right?
But then just a few days later, I had a chance to once again visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the third time in my life and the second time in a week. And once more, as I gazed at her image and reflected on her story, she moved my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Once more, God used the Mother of Jesus to get to my core.
Who’s smirking now?
God had already won my mind and my will (for the most part), but God doesn’t want me to merely assent to loving him: He wants my whole heart, especially those parts that most people rarely see. The burning, passionate, Sacred Heart of Jesus wants all of me, and maybe I am ready to reciprocate just a little bit better. I also know that loving God more passionately will never come at the cost of loving others, but will transform the quality of that love (those loves). So how do I prepare for my second honeymoon with God?
I think one key for me is to be more vigilant about the many ways in which God always makes the first move. When I was first coming back to the Catholic faith, I sometimes spoke of happy coincidences as being love letters from God. I need to re-train myself to view all the enchantments of this God-soaked world as being flirtations from the Lover of Humankind who wishes to be my lover as well (and yours, and yours, and yours…). The people and situations that truly bring me joy and meaning are each unique ways in which God shows different facets of his love for me. Seeing God love me through the relationships in my life should lead me to treasure each of my loved ones even more.
How do I respond to this call for passionate self-renewal I now feel? How do I stop playing coy with God and give more fully of my heart? Faking it until I make it won’t work this time. I know this new passion will wax and wane, but I can still cultivate my heart to make it more susceptible to this new dynamic. This means re-evaluating my prayer practices. I also need to try more consciously to choose fulfilling behavior rather than passing time unthinkingly. This does not mean becoming boring, but rather that I should seek joy deliberately—the opposite of being boring. How many human romantic relationships go cold once the partners in the couple become more caught up in their work and personal devices than they are in each other? What makes me think my relationship with God will be any different unless I engage it wholly?
St. Augustine’s words speak to me with new purpose. I can’t force my restless heart to rest so that I can become or remain God-centered. Instead, I must bring that restless heart to God who desires it, to God, the only one in whom it can find true rest.
The “ear candy” and “brain food” both relate strongly to different parts of this week’s admittedly intense reflection. First, Björk’s song (which you really should watch the video for) explores the dynamics of normal life and the power that passionate love suddenly has to transform the world. This week’s “brain food” shares a bit about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and features many of the aspects that move me so deeply. A more personal account may come in a later post.
Ear Candy: “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Björk
Brain Food: “The Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe” by Fr. Pablo Migone of Patheos.com
Come back next Saturday for a new post!