God’s Love is forever (Horizons of the Heart 3)

The grace we are asking of God: A deep confidence and a consistent trust in God’s care for us and his nearness to us in every moment, even in the events of our life that are our undoing.

Horizons of the Heart: Horizons of the Heart is a weekly retreat-in-life inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, Donec Formetur by Blessed James Alberione, and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

I love to pray Psalm 103, particularly with the translation of the New Jerusalem Bible:

Bless Yahweh, my soul,
from the depths of my being, his holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all his acts of kindness.
….Yahweh is tenderness and pity,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love;
his indignation does not last for ever,
nor his resentment remain for all time;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve,
nor repay us as befits our offences.
As the height of heaven above earth,
so strong is his faithful love for those who fear him.
…As tenderly as a father treats his children,
so Yahweh treats those who fear him;
he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust” (vv. 1-2, 6-11, 13-14).

The day I meditated on this passage of Scripture at the beginning of my retreat, my soul was bleeding to know, truly know, that God cared for me, loved me, was near to me.

Did you ever ask yourself: What would it look like if God were caring for me? How can I know for sure?

It is a mystery for sure, but even more than that, it is mystical. The Lord then led me to another passage: Isaiah 49.

Sing for joy, O heavens!
    Rejoice, O earth!
    Burst into song, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on them in their suffering.

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;
    the Lord has forgotten us.”

Pause: have you ever thought that the Lord had deserted you? That he had forgotten you? What was happening? What was the final straw that brought you to this conclusion? What does being “deserted” and “forgotten” feel like? What does it make you think about yourself? About God?

God responds to Jerusalem:

Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
    Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible,
    I would not forget you!
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands (vv.13-16).

Photo by Kyle Nieber on Unsplash

“See, Kathryn,” the Lord helped me to understand. “I carry you in the womb as does a mother.” A baby in the womb receives everything from its mother: life, form, food, growth, blood, development. Receives is the key word here. A pre-born baby is wholly receptive. To be held in the “womb of God,” is to receive from God, to become and come-to-be through the nurturance, love, and fidelity of the God who creates, sustains, and keep us in existence at every moment of our life.  

Inherent in motherhood is the desire to protect her children. A couple of weeks ago I listened to an interview of a mother who was first at the scene when an active shooter was reported at Robbs Elementary in Uvalde and ran immediately into the school to find her two children. Nothing could stop that mother from running toward danger to rescue her children. To save their child, a parent will race into a fire, risk their life in gunfire, throw a child to safety at the cost of their own life….

It is the same with God. His love is forever, surrounding us with walls of care. He sent his beloved Son Jesus to offer himself for our salvation, at the cost of his life. God, in a sense, ran toward us in our sin to save us, not considering the loss he would himself incur. The image of the father of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke is also an image of our heavenly Father. He ran toward his returning and repentant son who was returning after having squandered his inheritance, probably nearly half his father’s estate. Yet how his father loved him with that forever love that is the hallmark of God’s heart.

To be honest, however, we each suffer at the hands of others, some in lesser ways, others in greater. God’s love for us doesn’t necessarily magically preserve us from all pain, suffering and sorrow.

A mother and father who have truly grown wise through the sufferings of their own life, know that the moments of suffering, injustice, and challenge that their child faces may also be their most defining moments.

Anyone who saw the 2012 film For Greater Glory will recall the story of the teenager José Luis Sánchez del Río, the 14-year-old martyr who died defending the Faith when the Catholic Church in Mexico was being bitterly persecuted in the early 1900s.  He was canonized on October16, 2016 in Rome.

The Vatican website has this for Blessed José’s biography: 

José Sánchez del Río was born on March 28, 1913, in Sahuayo, Michoacán, Mexico. Wanting to defend the faith and rights of Catholics, he followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers and asked his mother for permission to join the Cristeros. She objected, telling him he was too young. “Mama,” he replied, “do not let me lose the opportunity to gain heaven so easily and so soon.”

On February 5, 1928, the young boy was captured during a battle and imprisoned in the church sacristy.

In order to terrorize him, soldiers made him watch the hanging of one of the other captured Cristeros. But José encouraged the man, saying, “You will be in heaven before me. Prepare a place for me. Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon.”

In prison, he prayed the Rosary and sang songs of faith. He wrote a beautiful letter to his mother, telling her that he was resigned to doing God’s will. José’s father attempted to ransom his son but was unable to raise the money in time.

On February 10, 1928, the teenager was brutally tortured and the skin of the soles of his feet was sheered off; he was then forced to walk on salt, followed by walking through the town to the cemetery. The young boy screamed in pain but would not give in.

At times the soldiers stopped him and said, “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we will spare your life.” But he answered: “Long live Christ the King! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!”

Once he arrived at the cemetery, José was asked once more if he would deny his faith. The 14-year-old shouted out: “Long live Christ the King!” and was summarily shot.

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Again and again, in the Scriptures, it is in the darkest and most dreaded moments that glory shines. Think of Israel on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army barreling down behind them. The parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus became the image for all time of how God himself saves his people not from their difficulties but through them. It is through death that we come to life.

Think of Judith and Esther and Peter in his betrayal of the Lord. Consider the persecution of the early Church, the martyrs, and the countless women and men who in every walk of life have bravely been carried by the power of God through the midst of the flames and have not been burnt. They have walked through the floods and not drowned. Their most painful moments became their glory through God’s power.

We may not be in a situation where we fear for our lives or are called to stand up for our Faith at the cost of martyrdom. At least not yet! What most brings us into the darkness and dreaded loss that threatens to break us apart are situations where we are “undone.”

We call these moments, the “carrying of the cross.” Jesus told us that to follow him we would need to take up our cross and follow him. To live with him in glory, we will need to die with him on the cross. How much we may want to avoid the cross: the consequences of failure, mistakes, being helpless before the injustice of others, having our plans or dreams unraveled by unexpected illness, job loss, financial burden…or pandemic, chain supply issues, or war in some other part of the globe.

Jesus says to us, “If you want to follow me disown your life, surrender to my ways.” I have been quite taken by the simple prayer of the humble Canadian religious Blessed Dina Bélanger: “Jesus, I love you. Have your way with my life.”

Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash

In the face of the myriad paths I could take in life, it is God who decides which alternative is of value to me and my life in the world. “Jesus, I love you, have your way with my life.” God is the one who knows whether a possible choice will make me more selfish or more selfless. “Jesus, I love you, have your way with my life.” God knows what things will lead me more to him and to become my authentic self. “Jesus, I love you, have your way with my life.”

I have to admit I have often bemoaned the losses of my life. Despite praying the Our Father countless times, it has taken me a long time to whisper to God, “Thy Kingdom come. My kingdom go.” I have focused on the clouds, on the cross, on the tears…surviving them, understanding them, growing from them. So patiently has the Lord waited for me to turn my eyes and heart to him. “Your Kingdom is all I want.”

I pray in trust to the One who knows and loves me more than I could ever know or love myself:

“…I have not immersed myself deeply in your glory. Forgive me. I have stayed on the surface where it is safe, where I can protect myself and manage my future. Now, my Father, I plunge myself into all your glory.

Take me in.
Take me deeper.
Assume me into you.”

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Featured image: Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

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