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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The Love and Goodness of God
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We have been concentrating on God as a pure Spirit, who has, as all spiritual beings possess, a mind or intellect and a will. In the mind of God we saw there is knowledge: what he knows. When using that knowledge in the interests of his creatures, it is wisdom. However, God not only has a mind with which he knows, and which he exercises with infinite wisdom, God also has a will with which he loves, and, again towards his creatures, which he exercises in the practice of infinite goodness.
We are, therefore, doing now in our reflections on the will of God what we have so far done in meditating on the mind of God. We may say to shore up the introduction that the love of God is what belongs to God as God; the goodness of God is how he shows his love toward the creatures he has made. In each case as we have been doing, we will first reflect on the love of God, and then see its implications in our own moral and spiritual lives, and then repeat the process for the goodness of God.
In reflecting on the love of God we are referring to the love of God within himself. God is not only loving or lovable; divine revelation tells us God is Love. The reason, as we have seen, is because God is a community, he is a society, he is a plurality, he is a company. Before we go any further let's make sure we know what we are saying.
Unless the Lord had trinity there could not be what we know there is, love. Love implies, not only among ourselves but within the Godhead Itself, it requires another toward whom the one who loves manifests or with whom he communicates his love.
Well then, we read, or we say, correctly enough, that God loves Himself. That's ambiguous and misleading. The love of God within Himself is always the love of One Person for the others and the Others for the One. It is therefore of the essence of love that there be a plurality. We believe that each of the three Persons shares with the Others the fullness of his divine nature. First, then, there is no love, it doesn't exist in the sense in which God has revealed himself in the Holy Trinity without there being an Other toward whom that love is manifest.
It belongs to the essence of love that there be a plurality, that there be a community; and correspondingly it belongs to the essence of love that there be a giving, a sharing. Except by an abuse of the tongue, we don't really mean it when we say that someone gives himself. What does this teach us? It teaches us that the primary meaning of love is to give, whether among ourselves as human beings or even within the triune God. Moreover, we therefore know from looking at the divinity that persons in love share with one another and that sharing has been going on for all eternity. We further say the measure of love among human beings, that is of their love for one another, is the degree to which each is willing and ready to communicate to the other. So much for the Holy Trinity.
Two things remember: There is no love even in God without there being a plurality: there must be more than one, and in God faith tells us there are three; and there must be, it belongs to the very nature of love, that within this plurality one possesses and gives to the others. Having said that, we go on.
What are the consequences in our own spiritual life to know deep-souled reflection and realization of the meaning of love as verified in the Holy Trinity?
The Trinity is the primary Object of our love. That's the main reason that God revealed himself as being three Persons in one God. What does God want us to learn or how respond to the fact that we believe that there has been from all eternity the eternally loving community of the Holy Trinity? It is therefore a call on our part to respond by loving this Holy Trinity in either loving adoration or adoring love.
There are two ways that we as creatures are called upon to adore our God. There is one way in which we adore God as the One from whom we came. In our adoration towards this God who is our Creator is the adoration of humble submission to his divine majesty.
But there is another kind of adoration, not the adoration of a God on whom we depend because it is from him that we came, but the adoration of love, because it is this triune God for whom our created hearts were made. What a difference between speaking of the adoration of God as our Lord and Master to whom we owe obedience and the adoration of love of which we are here speaking. It is this Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we have been made to possess or to be possessed by in that indescribable union called the beatific vision. This should be the first response of our own loving hearts as we meditate on the Most Holy Trinity in the love of adoration or the love of admiration or the love of complacency or the love of prayers or the love of veneration - by whatever name - our primary response to our faith in God as a community of love should be simple, childlike satisfaction that we are privileged to know, and speak to, and express our joy in having the company of the Blessed Trinity now by faith, and looking forward to seeing this God who is Love in the glorious eternity for which we were made.
We came from nothing; we are absolutely, metaphysically nothing before God made us. But we are made to possess the Everything who is God. Before we go on to reflecting on the goodness of God, I suggest we should often think of God and simply tell him that we love him. Why? Because he is God. Tell him we are happy to love him; tell him we are pleased to be able to speak with him; and tell him we are looking forward to seeing him. I just hope that everyone here in chapel or at least someone here in chapel has at least once in your lifetime so far, at least once froze with stupor and realized: "My God! I can't believe it. I am talking to You. You are the Maker of heaven and earth, on whom the sun, moon and stars depend. I am talking to You. I am overwhelmed." Ask God for the grace of being overwhelmed at least by the momentary realization, privilege, the glory of a creature that was nothing, conversing with the all-holy and almighty God.
The second area for our reflection is on the goodness of God. As we said before, we distinguish for the purpose of this meditation between the love of God which is God Himself and the goodness of God, which faith tells us he need never have exercised. It is the goodness of God that we believe on faith, which puts the divine free will into action. Everything in God within the bosom of the Holy Trinity, all the love that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for one another (to use our terrible human language) is the love of necessity - not in our crude sense of coercion or compulsion. It belongs to the very essence of God that he love within the Holy Trinity. And except for our faith, we believe God might have what he did. And we dare not ask for how long because the Holy Trinity never began. But the world began. Whatever else you forget from this retreat, please don't forget the world began. God never began. When then, (to express ourselves as best we can with our lisping, stupid human language) God, not satisfied, we may say, with loving within the Trinity, chose, (free will) same divine will but now exercised in favor of those who until God had decided to show this kind of goodness, they didn't exist. We then must say that although creatures began to exist, God never began loving creatures, he always did. We repeat: although we had a beginning, God never began to love those whom he created.
Now we look more closely. We are immediately struck or should be, by the marvelous selectivity that God, using his free will, exercised in creating some creatures and not creating others. Again, we marvel at God's selectivity in creating some with less and others with more. More of what? More of a share of his own divine perfections. And let no one dare to say, what blasphemy this would be, that God is playing favors. He is God! If God wants to make a flea, he makes a flea. If he wants to make a fly, he makes a fly. If he wants to make a tree, he makes a tree. If he wants to make an animal, he makes an animal. And if he wants to - get that verb - if he wants to, if he wants to, he makes a human being.
To reflect on this in the bright light of faith, you almost cannot do it too long without being overwhelmed. My God! And we must say: "Lord, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that you owed me, or that I had any claim to your making me. And that for the best of reasons: because nothing, which we were before we became what we are, nothing can claim nothing."
Over the years I have taught the spirituality of the saints often enough and long enough to say every one of the saints was overwhelmed by this ineffable, indescribable goodness of God; so much so that I would say the surest way of becoming a saint is to realize your own nothingness and then burst with gratitude to God for all he has given to you.
This goodness of God toward us, he not only decided - thanks, Lord, oh! thanks, Lord - if he hadn't made me, well I wouldn't be even around to thank him. God made us personally, each one of us phenomenally different, totally different. We even look different which is God's way to make sure that we realize we are different. And it is that individuality, that distinctive personality that God has been showering and continues to shower now. And our faith and hope tell us: "Lord, is it true?" "Yes," he says, its true. I intend to continue pouring out my goodness on you to the endless reaches of eternity."
Sometimes we wonder and may be a bit embarrassed to realize not only that we are different, but other people are different. It takes an effort but it's worth it. Ask God to enlighten you - "Lord, there is no question that I'm different from other people and others are sure different than I" - to realize that God in his infinite wisdom wants all of us to be different. Do you know why? This retreat is on the divine attributes - right? Every human being is meant by God to be a reflection of a divine attribute. By the end of the retreat, no matter how many attributes of God we cover, and we won't have time for too many, but not one world, with an estimated population of five billion, but five billion worlds would not exhaust, could not possibly exhaust reflecting the perfections of God, which we call the divine attributes. God wants people to be different. God is glorified in variety; because variety in his creatures is a faint reflection of the infinite variety of totus perfections of the all-good God.
God wants us to glorify him in and through the creatures that he made. And not a small part of the glory that he expects and wants from us is to not merely resign ourselves to people being different, but to rejoice even though, I have to say it, their being different from us and we from them can be very costly, very hard on our self-preoccupied human personality.
We know that this God not only made us, he redeemed us. We are reflecting on the goodness of God and we are just spot checking here and there, just pinpoint examples of God's goodness to us. He has given us the true faith. By the way, that adjective "true" faith is most revealing. Everyone has the faith. Every rational human being believes. No choice. Life would be unlivable. I'd never sit down to a meal unless I believed and trusted the one who made the meal. Nobody would ever get married. Lo, the sublime love, the faith of a couple lost in mutual ecstasy; how they believe in one another! In the ten years I taught in New York City I marveled at the simple childlike faith of the hard, bitter executives riding the subway in Manhattan; monastic silence on the train, buried reading - what faith! - the New York Times.
God has given us the true faith. Talk about selectivity which unbelievers call divine discrimination! Let them have the vocabulary. All we know, and we are grateful: "Lord, thanks." Having taught the other religious systems over the years; you name it; there is only one true faith. Honest. He has given us membership in his own Mystical Body; he has been showering blessings on us from the moment of conception till the present day. And our faith tells us he will continue giving us his blessings until we don't need any more grace because and if we have merited an eternal reward.
What are some of the obvious consequences in our spiritual life, now reflecting not precisely on the love of God which IS God, but the goodness of God as shown in his lavish blessings on creatures, that except for his goodness would be the nothing which they were before he brought them into being?
First and mainly, if there is one virtue that in the practical order synthesizes the pursuit of holiness it is gratitude. I am afraid many of us, beginning with the speaker, are not sufficiently aware of the importance of cultivating the virtue of gratitude, cultivating it daily towards God. We shall be as grateful to God as we are aware of his goodness to us. And while there are many reasons we should not give in to worry or anxiety or depression, I believe the most important reason is that then it blinds our minds to what we need to constantly keep in mind: how good God has been and is to us.
For some us making the retreat, this may be the most important resolution we can make. To stop one thing and to start something else, to make a conversion. The simple occupation with all the things that are wrong with me, and there's plenty; if we had seventy-two hours in the day it wouldn't be enough to find out all that's wrong with us. All right, all right. But that's no way of treating the blessings of God. If we are to really grow in sanctity we must become constantly aware with the mind, of God's goodness to me, so that I can thank him. And not just an abstraction: "Thanks, Lord." Be specific.
Then besides thinking gratefully, we are to speak gratefully. Take ourselves; we do someone a favor. We say: "I suppose she's grateful;" but we sure appreciate if she says thanks. Tell God.
And it is not merely speaking gratefully, it is acting gratefully. All of us, every one of us, Sisters, owes a debt of gratitude, and no matter how long we live, we won't live long enough to pay that debt. Am I making sense?
Not only does God want us to be grateful in our minds; to say we are grateful with our lips; to act gratefully in our deeds; he wants us out of gratitude to him, to not only give but to give up. And in my theology, that is the highest form of gratitude we can show to God. And except for our faith, we wouldn't know how pleased God is with sacrifice. Meaning what? That among the gifts he gives us, out of the infinite bounty of his goodness, there are those, depending on our vocation and call in life, depending on the graces we receive in greater or less measure, gifts we cherish, blessings we love, creatures we enjoy; "But Lord, to express my gratitude I will give it up." This kind of gratitude God understands, he appreciates, and the heaven that awaits us, he rewards.
Realizing that nothing which God has given to us is meant to be hugged by ourselves alone, we must ask the good Lord, first to make us understand what he has given to us, and how much of what we have he wants us to share. It is in giving to others that as far as we creatures of flesh can do, we are imitating the Holy Trinity: giving of our time; giving of our convenience; giving of our knowledge; giving of our skill; giving of ourselves. In the last analysis, if we examine our own hearts we will all admit, no matter what others may give to us, or do for us, and frankly, we may not need that much, or more often, they may not have all that much to share; no matter. What we most appreciate and what most pleases God is that even as God has done toward us, we do toward others. This is not theory; this is not abstraction; this is not high-sounding theology; this is real life: we give ourselves. And every person whose life we touch knows whether we are really, really giving ourselves.
Most loving Trinity, I adore you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I acknowledge you as my God and want to please you in everything that I do. O infinite goodness of God, I thank you for creating me, for redeeming me, and offering me the prospect of possessing you in heaven. Teach me to put my faith in your goodness into practice by seeing every person you put into my life as a blessed opportunity of repaying you. Make me more and more like yourself in giving myself to others out of love for you. Amen.
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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