Joy isn’t what happens when life goes perfectly. It’s what happens when you know you’re loved perfectly, even when life’s a mess.
Chris Stefanick, Living Joy
The journey of Smitten With Goodness began with a simple question. What does it mean to love?
After many years of being what I thought was a good Christian and a good Catholic after my conversion, God was drawing me to something more. He was pursuing my heart in a very different way than I had ever felt before. Perhaps I was just in a space to listen and felt His tender touch drawing me towards Him since I know He is faithful and never leaves my side. He began to show me and I began to encounter His perfect, precious and faithful love.
Charity (or love) is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (CCC1822) St. Paul tells us that love (charity) is the greatest of the theological virtues: “Faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love .” (1 Cor. 13:13)
Many years ago, I distinctly remember my pre-teen daughter asking me what is love. We went to St. Paul’s definition from 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 for this perfect definition and framework: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). He goes on further to say that if I do not have love, I am nothing (1Cor 13:1-3).
This is a powerful definition and solid framework in which to ask ourselves, how well do I love? Love binds everything together in perfect harmony. It is the very essence of our soul. It is the love of God the Father who came to us through Jesus Christ to live with us today through the Holy Spirit.
Fr Jacques Phillipe says that the heart does not awaken to confidence until it awakens to love; we need to feel the gentleness and tenderness at the heart of Jesus. This cannot be obtained except by the habit of meditative prayer, by this tender repose and God which is contemplative. To grow or enrich ones spiritual life is to learn to love.
Growing in the spiritual life is worth the effort as the fruits of love are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. Love is always the ultimate goal of our life and if we run toward God’s precious love when we reach it, we will find rest.
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and their confidence.Focus on His truth, Jeremiah 17:7
Development psychologists tell us there are stages in how we grow in love. Richard Rohr describes this staging in his homily about Self Love to Group Love to Universal Love which is described in the following:
We must start with self-love and respecting the self. If we do not respect ourselves, we will not know how to respect anybody else. Then God moves us to group love, family love, which is basically the love of people who are connected to us or who are like us. A lot of people do not even get there. They do not know how to love their family or those close to them or those in their group. From there, God moves us to the third level, which is universal love; He says that a much smaller number of people get to this place. As we see in politics, in our country, and throughout the world, at best most people just get to the second stage of knowing how to love people who are like them: their race, their nationality, their religion, their political party. When we stay at this second stage of group love, we clearly do not create a healthy society. We see this in the rise of white nationalism and the violence at the U.S. Capitol that took place earlier this year. Many of us who identify as white in the United States are just coming to understand that it was this second level of exclusive love for our own group that was the foundation for most of the oppressive systems of our nation.
He goes on to say, “In Acts 10 we see how even the so-called first pope, Peter, had to be taught by the Holy Spirit how to grow in love. Peter was at the stage of group love, believing that God only loved the Jewish people. And then this strange thing happened where the Holy Spirit fell upon Gentiles! Peter looked around and said, “Oh my gosh! God seems to be for everybody and not just for the Jewish people!” He understood that it was okay to include Gentiles into what we eventually called the church. Despite this, most of church history has not really imitated Peter’s insight. We pulled back into group think and group love. Peter said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. In any country, whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable” (Acts 10:34–35). At that moment he became both a Jewish and Christian heretic! Peter himself began to recognize that God works with all people of goodwill—not just people in his group. But he had to be pushed there. Little by little, God leads him to universal love.”
Wow! Universal love is a BIG, perfect and precious love. This is where we see the face of Jesus everywhere and in everyone and in everything! If you would like to dive deeper into this concept, I recommend reading The Universal Christ. Powerful stuff.
To move through these stages of love, we need to look at the things within us that are holding us back. Many times, we don’t feel worthy of God’s precious love. There is a healing power in bringing our past hurts out of the darkness and into the light allowing us to love God, love ourselves, and love others.
During this Lent, as I contemplate the cross, I see hope through eternal life, healing, and rebirth. I also see that through sinfulness and pride, the cruelty of human nature attempted to stop this divine love from winning. The cross is a is a spiritual mirror of what is off in us and our human heart. I can live in the complacency and the “I’m fine culture” as I did for so many years. But after an encounter with God and Him wooing my heart in love, I am smitten with His goodness. The only way I know how to repay Him for this incredible gift is to surrender and trust in His love in return.
According to Bishop Barron and his sermon last week, John 3:16 is the most important line in the bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
We who believe this have trust, faith and confidence in divine mercy and love. Through the crucified Christ, we are born a new and given eternal life. He gave you and me the ultimate gift of Himself and His perfect and precious love to sustain us in the messiness of our lives.
How can I not be smitten with His goodness, knowing this kind of love?