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Monday, August 25, 2008

God's Boundless Love for Us

This striking essay is actually part of a book review from Ignatius Insight:

From unrequited love, it is said, we learn how God must feel. The truth in that remark is that God is not abstract love, but a Lover, whose love is astonishingly singular; He offers it not only corporately, to His people, but individually, to each heart, as ardently as if He had never created another in the entire universe to love. All the stories in this book are recollections of His courtship.

In times when the Catholic world is healthy, God woos most of us through the institutional channels of family, Church and culture. But even today, when the family is fractured and the Church in turmoil, when little survives of traditional Catholic culture and the object of His love is apt to spurn Him for worldly pleasures, still His quest continues, until either He wins the heart of His beloved or death intervenes. When His courtship is successful and His love returned, He forgives past neglect and pours out His grace unstintingly; repentant sinners are as likely as anyone else to become saints. Blessed Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, urging His followers to welcome a penitent, once advised "Remember that he may yet become an Augustine, while you remain mere mediocrities."

The Second Person of the Triune God demonstrated the depth of His love for us when He became incarnate as the man Jesus. The Church's Morning Prayer for Christmas Day says of His origin: "Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven in the silent watches of the night." [1] Almighty though He was, He did not come as an imperious king, or as some kind of angelic sorcerer, to stun the world with His power. Instead, He came as an ordinary mortal, subject to the pains and risks of the human condition. Surrendering all majesty and sovereignty, He entrusted His vulnerable infant body to human compassion, appealing for love first with His helplessness.

It was not only to teach us by example how to live that Jesus became man. He came as the Messiah, the long-promised Savior, to suffer and die in order that the scales of ontological order could perfectly balance mercy and justice in judging men. No merely human person could reconcile God's justice with His mercy, only Christ the Son, because He both embraces and surpasses all mankind. [2]

Some people are troubled to learn that God's perfection demands justice. They want to enjoy His mercy while denying His justice, because they think justice is cruel. But in fact, as Caryll Houselander wrote, justice is compassion:
... justice is a supreme example of His love ... Justice is the defense of the defenseless. It protects the weak, and restores to little ones those things of which they have been robbed by force. [3]
In so giving His life, Jesus revealed what kind of being God is: a Creator of perfect compassion, whose perfection requires justice but who so loves the persons He made that He sent His only Son to ransom them from the insuperable penalties due in justice for their sins. And He offers us this salvation by inviting each unique soul, individually, to live with Him forever in Heaven.

Christ's Resurrection is both a sign of fulfillment and a promise that even the repentant may attain it, a sign that His love has brought humanity into God's glory, [4] and a promise that all who live in faithfulness to His covenant can one day share in that glory. [5]

Jesus describes the purpose of His life in three related parables about the relationship between God and sinners. In the first, He compares God to a devoted shepherd who leaves the main body of His flock to search out a single lost sheep. In the second, He compares Him to a tenacious housewife who stops all other activities to search for one lost coin. Finally, in the third, He compares Him to a desolate father who watches without ceasing for the return of a wastrel son. [6]

This story of the Prodigal Son is the most fully developed of the parables. In it, he incorporates three familiar models of human behavior: the needy remorse of the bankrupt spendthrift, the jealous, unforgiving rectitude of the elder brother, and the endlessly faithful love of the father, solicitous not for himself but for his beloved lost child. Despite the title, the central character in the story is neither the prodigal son nor his sanctimonious brother, but the father with God's heart, who watches and yearns for the absent sinner with selfless love. When the son, hungry and degraded, turns homeward at last, his father rejoices without recrimination.

So poignantly does Jesus portray him that this father is universally recognized as an icon of God's tenderness toward the sinner. Even people whose perspective is otherwise entirely secular respond to the theme of pure mercy and forgiveness in this parable. If we live our faith well, we hope eventually to come to reflect the Father. In the meantime, whether sons or daughters, most of us can see ourselves in one or another of the characters from this parable at different times in our lives.

Read the rest here

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