The Art of Loving God
2093 Faith in God's love encompasses the call and the obligation to respond with sincere love to divine charity. The first commandment enjoins us to love God above everything and all creatures for him and because of him.12
2094 One can sin against God's love in various ways:
- indifference neglects or refuses to reflect on divine charity; it fails to consider its prevenient goodness and denies its power.
- ingratitude fails or refuses to acknowledge divine charity and to return him love for love.
- lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.
- acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.
- hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments.
The Catechism continues its treatment of the First Commandment with a focus on the virtue of Charity, in this case the charity and love owed to God. What is owed to one’s neighbor is the focus of the fourth through the tenth commandments. The language of para. 2094 is quite dated; I could not find the original sources for these categorizations, but I would guess they are a post-Reformational summary from a confessor’s manual. The term acedia, for example, and its accompanying description, shows nothing of the complexity of the term that dates at least to the early monks of the fourth century. As recently as 2008 Kathleen Norris’ Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life brought the complexity of the term into contemporary American consciousness. (See the Kirkus Review here)
[For the record, there are several clinical symptoms of depression or dysthymia that mimic monastic or spiritual sloth: too much sleeping, fatigue, inability to follow through on tasks, loss of ability to experience pleasure. Whether the cure is penance or Prozac is a very subtle judgment call, to be made only by those qualified to make it . Often it is a matter of both conditions overlapping.]
Its antiquated language aside, there is enough material in para. 2094 for significant moral reflection. The overarching moral sensitivity is the degree to which one is grateful to be alive. Were I a preacher today, I would focus upon that question from time to time, because no one passes through a human life without inner and outer pain. The response to this pain and the obvious inequality of the distribution of hard times from person to person and age to age gives every person reason to ponder whether being is better than non-being. Given the experiences of my life, am I grateful for having been born, and grateful that a Creator took the time to create (and Christian theology holds that creation was not a necessity on God’s “to do list.”)
Those of us who subscribe to the Judeo-Christian picture of the cosmos hold that not only did God create freely but also lovingly. In view of para. 2094, the moral challenge involves attributing love to our creation. The term “hatred of God” and its explanation is clumsy, but at its heart the authors correctly identify a refusal to recognize a perpetual goodness in the intent of God, attributing restraints and suffering to the Creator instead. To be grateful for our lives involves an element of humility in that we accept the pain of life in a context we admittedly do not fully understand but accept.
Retirement and the blog have given me more opportunities to study the Gospels, and to be honest, I find myself wrestling with the question of why God did make things so challenging. Intellectually I get the idea that the most loving teachers I had in school were the ones who held my nose to the grindstone. Unfortunately, Christianity does not offer “cake course electives” in the college of life [equivalent to my senior year slice of “urban planning” where we argued the merits of a proposed D.C. subway for three credits.] The realization that life is hard, challenging, and unfair is never easy to swallow.
The term “indifference” in para. 2094 describes something of a dodge, a denial of a Creator who does have answers, or more likely, a compartmentalizing of life between an abstract intellectual belief in a distant God and one’s “personal reality” of thoughts and behaviors. It can be very troublesome and burdening to acknowledge a God with personal interest and plans for you, for you can no longer claim 100% autonomy. Some people may hate an impersonal God, but I think more people hate a personal one, one who loves them. The love of God can be a burden, seen in a certain light. I think back to the 1960’s film “Cool Hand Luke” where Paul Newman said to his prison warden, “I wish you’d stop being so good to me.”
The Catechism’s definition of ingratitude is the refusal to “return him love for love.” In his efforts to bring people to his Father, Jesus performed gratuitous miracles of healing, “sacramental acts” or indications of a very personal love of the divine for the lost sheep of Israel. His frequent sojourns to quiet places to pray during his mission are reflective of his relationship to the Father, returning “love for love,” even with the full awareness of the cost of this relationship. An intellectual belief or relationship with the Creator is not enough to carry the day, for we all enjoy the rewards and the pains of our affective selves, too, and our inner philosopher must cede time to our inner lover.
If you are following the Reformation Café page on Thursday (God help you!) you may have come upon the struggle of medieval Christian philosophers to explain God. But equally important at the time were the intense affective longings for God expressed by mystical groups, religious orders such as the Franciscans, organized lay women such as the Beguines, and countless unknowns whose experiences of God defied logic—whether in visions, trances, art. Mystical writings speak of experiences of God with passion, even hints of Eros. This is appropriate: love is the investment of the total person. The worst sin against the First Commandment is the abandonment of any hope in finding the love of a personal God or a withholding of any desire to embrace the God of my personal destiny. I have a Franciscan theologian friend whose blog is entitled “Dating God.” We men know how hard it was to make the first phone call to our first girl, and how much harder to say to the object of our desire, “I love you.” The agony and the ecstasy.
Leave a Reply.