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by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It is traditional when using the Spiritual Exercises to close with a meditation on the love of God. Saint Ignatius calls this meditation A Contemplation for Obtaining Love (Contemplatio ad Amorem). We shall go over what Saint Ignatius says about love: what it means, how it is practiced, and how we can grow in the love of God. Suscipe is the first word of the exulted prayer that is a perfect act of the perfect love of God.
There are two kinds of ways that people show their love, love in words and love in deeds. This distinction should be familiar to us from the words of our Savior, who made it very clear that the person who loves Him is not the one who says Lord, Lord, but the one who keeps my word.
There is a proverb in the English language that says, They do not love that do not show their love. Nothing depends more on proof in this world than love; nothing needs more proof than love, as all lovers know. Do something, show me, prove to me that what you tell me is true! This is the unvarying love tale of all nations. If we really love someone, we show it by what we do. No doubt we begin with words, but we can never stop there if we are to convince the one we are talking to that we mean it. That is our first brief reflection, borrowing from Saint Ignatius.
Love exchanges with the one it loves. If the first law of love is that it shows itself in deeds and is not satisfied with words, this second law follows on the first.
Love consist in mutual interchange on either side, that is to say, in the lover giving and communicating with the beloved what he has or can give and, on the other hand, in the beloved sharing with the lover, so that if the one has knowledge, honor, riches, he shares it with a person who does not have these. And thus the one shares everything with the other.
Before we go on, let me point out just three little things. First, this is a mutual interchange. It is not merely that the one gives to the other, but both exchange with one another. Second, the lover gives not only what he has. Love is inventive, creative; it is so eager to give that even if it does not yet have, it will seek to acquire and accumulate. Talk about the madness of love! Love will seek to obtain in order to give up. You dont explain that; you either experience it or you dont have it. So the second feature of love is that it not only shares what it has, but it actually seeks to enrich itself; love seeks to accumulate and acquire in order to give, and then shares everything with the other. Love does not hold back anything! Indeed, in the measure that it hold back, to that extent the love is not yet perfect.
Third, this second law of love is also a matter of common experience. If we love someone, we want to share what we have with the person we love. Love does not want to see another person lacking what it has. If I love, I do not want to retain anything that the one I love is lacking. Love is uncomfortable to enjoy warmth if another person is cold, or food if another is hungry, or prestige if another is in disgrace or even the least trifle of knowledge if it cannot share. Love by its very nature is communicative, and the test of true love is the willingness to give up in order to share. So much, very sketchily, about the two laws of love.
What is the history of Gods love for me? Having reflected on these primary postulates of love, we transfer all of this and much more to the evidence of Gods love for each one of us individually. It is imperative that we make this part of the meditation as personal and particular as possible. Why? We must answer this question personally, because the secret key that will unlock my potential love for God is the prior awareness on my part of Gods specific, individual, particularized, minutely-detailed love for me. In fact, unless I am very particular of my awareness of Gods love for me, I will not be particular in my love for Him. If I dont see His love in the little things, then I will scarcely realize that I am supposed to show mine in little things. As we know, where there is genuine love, it is the little things that count.
The history of Gods love for me has a span exactly my age, beginning, however, nine months before I was born. It began on what we might call, not our birthday, but our life day. A great Jesuit scientist recently recommended that we begin celebrating each year our life day, to witness to the world our appreciation for having begun our life the moment we were conceived. In his goodness, God kept me alive in my mothers womb. We didnt think we would be grateful for that, did we? Well, times have changed. Then He allowed me, thank God, to see the light of day. He gave me the tender care of a mother who nursed and nourished me. He gave me my body and limbs. He gave me a mind and a will; emotions and feelings; the senses of sight and touch and smell and hearing and taste. How we appreciate things even more after we lose them.
God gave me the precious gift of faith and the grace of baptism that made me a child of God. He gave me an education and training and the opportunity of growing in body, mind and spirit. He gave me Himself so often in Holy Communion, and forgave me so often in the sacrament of reconciliation. He gave me Himself in the Blessed Sacrament just to be near me. He wants to be close to methats what love is all about.
He gave me so many wonderful people who over the years have been kind to me and, in spite of myself, patient with me; who have shared so much of what God gave them with me; who have, in many cases, spent themselves on my behalf; who speak with me and give me the pleasure of sharing my thoughts with them which, after the possession of God, I think is the greatest joy on earth, sharing spirit with spirit. All of this and more God not only gave but is giving me and will continue to give, if I let Him, into the endless centuries of eternity. This is one history that had a beginning but will never end.
Having said that, we have one important feature of this meditation left: the obligation of my responsive love for God. Since God has been so loving to me, how should I in return be loving Him? The answer is too obvious, In the same way! Now we know that God is infinite, and I most certainly am not. God is wealthy and I am poor; thats an understatement! After all, He is God, and I am only me. We are dealing with mystery; we are scratching on granite so to speak. None of us fully understand.
But this perhaps is the most mysterious part of the mystery of lovewe dont have to understand. What can we give God anyway? And what sense does a question like that even make? If all we have is His, what then is still mine? And if it isnt mine, how can I give it?
But even if we dont understand, God does. He knows perfectly well that everything we have, even the power of loving Him, is already His prior gift to us. No matter. Like a loving parent who is very pleased with the gift the child presents, bought with money the parent gave, God is pleased, immensely pleased, with our desire. Thats the point. He is pleased with our willingness to return His gifts to Him, to give back to the Lord what the Lord has first given to us. We know and God knows that this is not make-believe. Oh no, it is real, very real indeed. And what makes it so real is the fact that we can refuse to do it. If we need any evidence of the fact that it is in our power to return love for love, we have it in the fact that we can withhold this willingness. We can be glutted on Gods gifts, intoxicated with His goodness, and then laugh at Him for having been so generous.
This, after all, is all we can do, be ready to give back to God what His love has bestowed on us. This is all we can do, and this is all God wants us to do. But be sure that this is what God wants us to dothis is no option, this is the obligation to love. It is this willingness; this readiness to return to God what He has given to us that synthesizes our whole life on earth as lover of God.
The Church for generations has encouraged her priests to recite the Suscipe of Saint Ignatius every day after they have offered Mass. I recommend that every Catholic memorize this prayer and recite it daily as an act of the responsive love for God.
Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will. Whatsoever I have and possess, you have given all these things to me; to you, O Lord, I restore them. All are yoursdispose of them all according to your Will. Give me your love and your grace; this is enough for me.
Transcription of the Homily
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