Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Exquisite Love of God

God, from the first moment of man’s creation, through the mouths of His prophets throughout the centuries, and through His holy Church has said to mankind, “If you love Me, follow Me with all your heart and I will love you in ways that defy description and all human understanding and that will bring you inexplicable joy; and I will shower you with many blessings.”
St. Philemon of Agrigento, a solitary who lived in the 3rd century, once said to one of his spiritual children, “Those who truly love God will have a deep love for their brothers and sisters and in that love, their love for God will ever increase.”
Such is the intensity of God’s love. It has an expansive and explosive character. It is volatile; not in a bad way, but in a way that enlivens and renews and transforms everyone it touches. It is a love which sweeps us away and wraps us in ecstasy. When we are caught up in the exquisite love of God, our life experience is unlike anything we could ever dream of or hope for.
When we experience the exquisite love of God we become a true believer in Him. In turn, our love for God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, becomes greater and more precious than all the riches and wealth the material world can offer.
Loving is the mark of a real and true Christian. It is a noble state given by God to humankind as a participation in His very essence. God has told us about His love, has invited us to participate in His love, through His Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus we experience the exquisite love of God in real and tangible ways.
A person who loves God loves Christ, loves his family and friends, and loves his fellow man, but he loves them for and through his love for God. The human being who knows the true value of loving God and His Son crosses the boundaries of a limited human existence and enters a realm that transcends all human understanding and defies the limited knowledge of human reasoning. A person who loves God fights the limitations of this world and sweeps aside the desire and love for material possessions, finding gratification in serving Him and obeying the teachings of His Son, Jesus Christ.
If, in your life, the money you have in the bank, the house in which you live or the car that you drive are more important to you, to your spouse, to your children and to your friends are dearer to you than God Himself or the striving in His cause, then what shall it be like for you on that fearful day of judgment? Shall you convict yourself against what has been given to us in the Gospel as the acceptable way of living? God does not coerce a faithless and rebellious people but invites them in love and mercy to submit to His will so that they can participate in His exquisite love and be truly happy and free.
The state of living in God’s exquisite love, were it be to be compared to living in a state of indifference, which makes us slaves to earthly things, transforms a human being into a zealous fighter for God. Proclaiming ourselves as Christians means that we have entered into an intimate relationship with Christ, God become flesh, becoming in Him and through Him warriors fighting for the ultimate good. Our life as a Christian is a test, a test in which every man and woman who professes to be a disciple of Christ confirms his or her non-attachment to the things of this world and seeks rather a most powerful loving relationship with the Creator, through Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. The exquisite love of God is not only an emotional and mental state, it is a physical and spiritual state that is manifested by deeds.
When it comes to love, there are two kinds of lovers – those who are believers and are attached to God through Jesus Christ and those who have taken the world as what they love, becoming slaves to the evil one and his rule over the material world. Those who have taken the world as their lover instead of God will never find true happiness, fulfillment or satisfaction. But those who love and serve the Lord, who overflow in their love for God, will find riches beyond measure and life in abundance in service of the Lord.
The exquisite love of God draws us into an experience that opens our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to the things and experiences which are not possible to those who do not love God, who have no faith, or even a lukewarm faith. One who is truly in love is one who has a deep longing for his or her beloved. One who is in love with God longs for the Beloved who Himself is true Love. God, through Christ, calls us to be one with Him: “Come, all who love Me! Follow Me and I will love You beyond all measure.”
One of the most visible signs of loving God is an intense love of the Gospel. The sign of loving the Gospel is loving and obeying Christ. The sign of loving Christ is loving and serving one’s fellow man. The sign of loving one’s fellow man is forsaking the things of this material world. And the sign of forsaking the material world is taking from it only what is needed for survival.
When we experience the exquisite love of God we become one with Him. When that kind of relationship exists between us and God, God becomes the ears we hear with, the eyes we see through, the hands we work with, and the feet we walk with. This all happens through the person of Jesus Christ, who enters into us in the Eucharist, filling us with Himself, the divine essence which purifies our souls and bodies and lifts us up from our human weakness.
When we are in that love relationship with God, we are swept up in an experience which transcends all human understanding. In this most sublime of relationships if we ask for something, it is granted to us. If we ask for refuge and help, it is lovingly given to us. If we beseech mercy and forgiveness, it is freely and abundantly poured out upon us like soothing and fragrant oil.
God loves the person who strives to be holy, who seeks after Him with his or her whole heart. He showers with His love those who yearn and long for Him. He turns His face toward them and extends His hand, drawing them to Himself and into the warmth of His presence. Once they submit themselves to the will of God, His love fills them and shines through them and all their deeds and works satisfy God and glorify Him. The love of God causes them to obey Him, keeping them away from all that would separate them from Him. The lover and the beloved become one. The one in love with God tastes a sweetness and joy unknown to those who have shunned God or who are lukewarm in their faith.
The fruits of the exquisite love of God are given only to true and faithful believers. The condition of this state of love is purity of affection and desire with constant remembrance of the Most Holy Trinity. For when you love something, you constantly remember it, and when you love someone, you constantly think about him or her. True love means to bear the object of that love in your heart always. With regard to a love relationship with God, it means to be persistent in the remembrance of the Lord and finding the sweetness of secret conversations with Him, being always in a constant state of praise, thanksgiving and gratefulness.
Experiencing the exquisite love of God means seeing the richness of the heart of God; it means seeing and embracing His Exaltedness, His Majesty, His Knowing and His Omnipotence. This is the experience of the righteous, the repentant, and the obedient.
Blessedness comes to those who have drunk from the cup of God’s love and who have eaten of the Bread of Life. The sweetness of God’s love fills the heart and refreshes the soul, sweeping the one who loves God away on the wings of ecstasy to a state of complete communion with Him. The exquisite love of God washes the senses and purifies the soul until everything of man is in God and from God. This is the case of the true lover of God. Love is only complete when the lover sees only the beloved and no one else.
God says to us, “I have made you for Myself.” We are destined to be His, to be with Him for eternity. All we have to do is accept His invitation to become the lover of God. True love of God is exaltation, proclaiming without hesitation and always our love for Him and His love for us.
May we always seek to be partakers and recipients of the exquisite love of God and become true lovers of Him who loves us unconditionally and whose love makes us burn with longing for things divine and eternal.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

And Now You Want me to Pray!

Shortly after my ordination to the priesthood back in 1997, the bishop who ordained me told me a story about a newly ordained priest who preached during Divine Liturgy about the absolute necessity of prayer.  His sermon was emphatic and emotionally charged. He told the members of his congregation there were no choices, no excuses...we must all pray incessantly!  After Divine Liturgy, a parishioner approached him and very earnestly protested that her life was too busy and that there was absolutely no way she had time to pray.
Your family doctor tells you that you must eat better or start exercising.  Your dentist instructs you to take more time brushing.  Your accountant recommends that you spend more time looking after your finances.  The lady on the television says that your child’s lunch sandwich should be cut into interesting shapes and kind notes written with the mustard.  You want to spend more time with your family and really, the house is a mess.

And now your priest says that you must pray.
Well . . . yes. That's his job. To remind you of the things that are important for the well-being of your soul and of your relationship with God. Prayer SHOULD be a regular part of your, well, of OUR lives (I don't excuse or exempt myself from this advice).

But not all prayer has to be hour long stints (as good as that might be) or on your knees (as helpful as that might be) or in a quiet room (as conducive as that might be) or very formal (as much as that might be an aid.)  Intense and meaningful prayer can be a few simple sincere words. So, yes...we should pray every day and with great fervor.
But you still say you have no time. Well then, here's my advice to you: rob, steal, and cheat as often as you must to get some prayers in.  Be creative. Recycle time.  Standing in line at the grocery store or at the bank or at the DMV may not be a very conducive place to pray, especially now that we have televisions and all sorts of technology assaulting us and blaring at us, but you can say the Jesus Prayer, or one Our Father or Hail Mary, or even, “Thank you God for the bounty in my life.”  That's what I mean by rob, steal and cheat...take the time away from the worldly things to address the other worldly and more important eternal things...the really meaningful and life-changing things.

When you are in love, it is absolutely great to have the evening or the day to spend with the person of your dreams.  But when that is impossible how reassuring it is – how much it makes your day to receive a text, “Just thinking of you.”  “Love you.”  “Can’t wait to see you.”  Don't you think God would be satisfied with a "tweet" rather than nothing at all?  Of course He wants to hear from you.  If you cannot say a rosary or an akathist, send a hello.
Waiting for the computer to warm up, pouring the coffee, alone in the bathroom or shower, turning off the commercials on the radio while driving, walking through the doorway into a tough (or not so tough) meeting, standing at the pump at the gas station, while taking the trash out – any of these are an opportunity to send a text message to God.
We always seem to be too busy for God but God is never too busy for us. On the contrary, He always makes time for us, and is available for us 24/7, 365 days a year. We shouldn't look to God only in times o0f difficulty and trouble. We should turn to Him every day. A glance in His direction with a smile goes a long way in letting Him know that we love Him, are thinking about Him, and are happy He is a part of our lives.