Last night, 3rd December, I led the final part of our mini-advent retreat on Zoom with a reflection on love. Below is a summary of the input. Many thanks to all who joined us. If you would like to make a contribution to the work of 'The Hook of Faith' then all you need to do is send a cheque to Fr Billy Swan, St Aidan's Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford'. All donations big or small will be gratefully received and be invested in the work of adult faith development.
‘ I give you a new commandment – love one another just as I have loved you’ (John 13:34).
‘Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love’. (1 Cor. 13:13).
‘God loved us first’ (1 John 4:19)
Listening to the Saints
'We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things we become a thing. If we love nothing we become nothing’.
St Clare of Assisi.
‘The things we love tell us what we are’. St Thomas Aquinas.
‘Love is wiling the good of the other as other’ St Thomas Aquinas.
‘Love is the life of the soul’. St Frances de Sales.
‘Charity is the sweet and holy bond which links the soul with its creator; it binds man with God and God with man’. St Catherine of Siena.
‘To love for loves sake’. St Bernard of Clairvaux.
‘Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Love must win out. It is the only thing that can’. St Oscar Romero.
‘To be love at the heart of the Church’. St Therese of Lisieux.
‘You know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was his meaning’. Julian of Norwich.
Examen of Conscience:
Have I lost sight of my first call to love?
Do people experience me as loving?
Have I a loving spirit with a warm heart?
Do I give the impression that I am too busy to be approached?
Question: would we prefer that people know we are busy or that we are loving?
Not to do as much as possible but to do what we can with great love.
Story of priest preaching to his people: ‘Do you love them?’
Returning to the Source of Love
But where do we start? We can’t give love if we don’t know how to receive it.
Karl Barth’s greatest insight: ‘Jesus loves me’.
For us, the first place we know that ‘Jesus loves me’ is before him in prayer.
St Elizabeth of the Trinity: ‘I feel so much love over my soul, it is like an Ocean I immerse and lose myself in…He is in me, I am in him. I have only to love him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things’. Letter 177.
‘Let Yourself be Loved’
When we pray, it is there in that sacred space where we find ourselves alone before God, where we put all activities, roles and masks aside to appear before him just as we are. And in that space and time, the first step is to allow ourselves to be affirmed and accepted by the parental love of God and to hear the same words of the Father addressed to Jesus at his baptism, addressed also to us: ‘This is my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3:17).
Faith Grows when Love is Received
The need to feel this personal, maternal and affectionate love of God is not some kind of disordered desire or excessive neediness. Rather it is a recognition of the strong relationship between the acceptance of love and the nurturing of faith. As Pope Benedict described it beautifully: ‘Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received’ . Therefore, in prayer, we simply say ‘yes’ to the gift of God’s love for us that we accept with gratitude and joy.
When we refuse to be Loved
St Bernard of Clairvaux - the lack of affection in people’s lives is ‘among the many great and grievous evils of our time’.
Christianity becomes about merit not grace
If we do not allow ourselves to be affirmed and cherished by God, if we do not consider ourselves worthy of accepting his love, then the risk remains of seeking this affection and consolation in our pastoral relationships. It is the classic temptation of mistaking what is made by God for God himself. St Gregory the Great: ‘Let the pastor avoid the temptation of wishing to be loved by the faithful instead of by God and being too weak for fear of losing men’s affection’.
The tragedy of addiction
Conclusion - Nothing can replace God’s Word of love for us, nothing can substitute for his love within us and that is why prayer is the place where we return to time and time again to hear the words of Christ ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love’ (John 15:9). Prayer is where we go to ‘think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children for that is what we are’ (1 John 3:1).
Receive God’s love as ‘Living Water’ welling up to eternal life.
The Eucharist – God’s Way of Loving us
God’s way of loving us
Welcome and acceptance
Engaging with the Word of God as a love story
Praying our needs in love – the prayers of the faithful
The Offertory – presenting ourselves to God totally and completely
Eucharistic Prayer- - united ourselves to the Father with Christ
The Our Father – united in the Church
Holy Communion – a mystical and loving union of two lovers that changes us into the love we receive
Love poured out
Mission as a Life of Love
‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’
That we desire to make Christ known and loved
‘Spirit filled evangelisers’ (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel)
To serve not only in imitation of his love but with his love. ‘You are the light of the world’. True to the extent that it is his light.
‘Faith hope and love and the greatest of these is love’. (1 Cor.)
That there be ‘love at the heart of the Church’.
God Loves You!!
“The very first truth I would tell each of you is this: ‘God loves you’. It makes no difference whether you have already heard it or not. I want to remind you of it. God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved’ (Pope Francis, Christ is Alive, 112)
‘God loves you’- isn’t that the most well worn of clichés? It’s just standard filler for the laziest, most obvious and repetitive homilies. Everybody knows that by now. No. Exactly the opposite. It is not familiar. It is shattering. It changes everything’. Peter Kreeft
Mary – Woman of Love
‘The Virgin Mother bore him in her womb with a love beyond all telling’. Second Preface for Advent
The finding of Jesus in the temple – see how worried your father and I have been looking for you’ (Luke 2:48).
A poor woman with a loving tender heart concerned for the poor – ‘the lowly, the hungry, her own people’.
Jesus entrusted the beloved disciple to her care and her love – ‘Woman behold thy child’ (John 19:26).
We thank you for the gift of your love and the place you have reserved for us in your heart and kingdom. Never allow us to forget your love for us at all times and that we are your beloved children. May we always turn back to you when we fail. Mould us and form us in the art of loving like your Son Jesus so that we can love more perfectly every day. Let us be icons of your humble love this Advent and Christmas as your Son is born again in our hearts. Amen’.