If you remember the old Baltimore Catechism taught: “God made us to know him, love and serve him…” Hence, we first must know God in order to love Him. For how can we love that which we do not know? Hence, we read the scriptures and study the teachings of our Faith. But how do we love God? For Israel this was summed up in the commandment, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one God, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Jesus of course added to this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So this love of God includes love of neighbor and love of self. Authentic love then necessarily has these three objects. So in a sense when we fail to love our self or our neighbor our love of God falls short.
So then who is this God that we love? The God that is the object of our love has revealed Himself as Father. For Israel this included the Creator and the Lord of history who was guiding His children each step of the way. Jesus furthered this notion of Father-God by inviting us to call God: Abba. This is one of the few Aramaic words retained by the Greek writers of the New Testament. It is a word that children use to address their earthly fathers, similar to our English usage of the title Dad or Daddy. So for us as Christians the God that we love is actually Daddy-God.
Now this works fine if your image of a father is one of a loving, kind provider. Our first image of father comes from our earthly fathers. This forms in a sense the template from which we develop our ideas of a Father- God. If our idea of father is distorted by experience or perception then we usually will have a hard time with the idea of God. For those who find themselves struggling here it is critical that they begin to deal with their own father issues. Once we have worked this issue through then we will be free and open to the revelation of the Daddy-God of Jesus.
Another challenge we must overcome in trying to love God is the problem of love of self. Too often we do not know what this means. We mistake healthy self-love for egotism and pride and so do not love our self and therefore cannot authentically love God or neighbor. People will often tell me all the good things they are doing or have done and I realize they are trying to love themselves. Except they do not. There are old tapes running in their heads that tell them no matter how much good they have done they are not really lovable. The extreme end of this is suicide. But most do not get there. Rather they kill themselves slowly with self-hate.
The task each day for everyone is to be able to look in the mirror and love ourselves. But in order to do this, I need to do things that make me feel good about who I am and not just what I do. This means for instance that a spouse has to feel good about being a spouse and can only do this by fulfilling the nature and purpose of being a spouse. The other side is to avoid that which makes me feel bad about myself. We call this stuff “sin”. A spouse who commits infidelities will not feel good about being a spouse and will not love him or herself. We love ourselves when we are convinced that God has loved us first and has given each a purpose or nature to fulfill and which we do our best to live up to.
As you can see loving this God has to be more than an abstraction. It is really a very concrete reality. In his first encyclical letter, our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI teaches us about this very thing. “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love). In this wonderful letter, the Pope explores first what is love really? Then he goes on to explain how Christians and especially how the Church expresses love. The Pope begins by reminding us that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. St. John’s Gospel describes that event in these words:“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him…should have eternal life.” (3:16).
So we can begin our love of God through our encounter with Jesus Christ.
Happy Fathers Day!
Love, Fr. John B.