And Most of All, Love

Once a friend and I were praying together out loud, and after a lengthy prayer on my part, she said a short prayer, and though I don’t remember the exact words, she said something like this: 

‘I pray what I pray every day: God, please give me courage, and please give me strength, and please give me grace, and please give me mercy, and please give me patience, and please give me kindness, and most of all please give me love.’ 

I liked the simplicity. I admired that she didn’t ask for things, but instead for virtues. And I was struck by the end, however simple and obvious it may seem, because ‘the greatest of these is love’. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

I began to pray this every day for a long time after I heard that, and I want to explain what I think it exemplifies and can remind us of. Prayer is communication with God, spoken or unspoken. And when we do speak, we can say any number of things—we can confess, adore, petition, and give thanks, and we should do all of these things. But in all things we must remember that we are utterly needy. We have nothing to offer—He is the All, who needs nothing. (Sirach 43:27) Yet this Almighty gives Himself entirely to us. He does so because it is His will, His nature, because He is love: Three persons, one being, each eternally giving oneself to the other. God is community, He is friendship. This is the God we can receive. It is indeed His will that we do so (2 Tim. 2:4). For us to receive this, there is one requirement. It is not our merits—we have none, and in fact we have merited Hell: eternal loneliness, despair, an endless death. We cannot pray as we ought (Rom. 8:26), cannot do anything to change our helplessness and unworthiness. We have only one thing: To want it. To desire God. Then we will seek, and then we will find. It is in our power, the power of our free will, and truly God cannot save us without it—for He who is merciful love cannot force us to love Him. But He has given us free will, which we retain, and that is all He requires: A heart that truly wants Him to save it, to love it, to give Himself to it. Because that is what He offers: Everything: Himself. Happiness beyond what we could ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). We need only to desire Him to fill our nothingness, our misery, wretchedness, total weakness, with Himself, with Love. ‘The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’ (Ps. 51:17) This desire must imbue all our thoughts, words, and actions as the core desire of our lives. This is to love God with our whole heart, mind, and strength. In St. Faustina’s words, I must give myself, who am an abyss of misery, to God, who is an abyss of mercy, which surpasses my misery by the measure of eternity. This gift of self, this act of the will—surrender and abandonment to God who is Love—this is all He desires. He provides everything else—the virtue, the strength, the grace. But we have to want it. 

If I’m being honest, God is not the desire above all my desires. If He were, I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about myself and trying to do things on my own. I have other desires that conflict with this one. But God can still work with this. St. Paul wrote that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, and therefore I shall be made perfect not in spite of my weakness, but where I am weak. I only have to invite God into this weakness, into my sin, my brokenness, my selfish desires or inclinations, and my helplessness. I need to trust Him to love me now, to heal my wounds while they fester, to help me as I struggle—all in the present, when I am least worthy. 

This is hard, because I very much like a good impression of myself. And one of the main ways He will teach us to love is through suffering. Through suffering we learn how much we need God, and so learn to depend on Him more. Sometimes this suffering is a struggle with a particular sin which God permits so that we can learn how much we need His mercy, and so we can become more merciful to others who are failing in virtue and love. And through suffering He unites us to His own Son, who suffered for us in love. By His Spirit given at the Cross, we can unite our sufferings to His own, and ‘in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’, joyfully accepting our sufferings to save souls with Jesus. All this is possible, with God. And so we must ask Him. We ask Him to give us love. This is above all what we must desire. If I desire even other virtues first, they shall be worthless without love. If I try to love Him first, to give myself as a gift before I receive the Gift of Himself, I shall fail. ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10) This is what I must desire, and I must believe that He means it when He said He would give it; and I must trust that it will make me perfectly happy—this is faith and hope, whose form is love: the gift of self, abandonment, surrender to His will and strength over my own will and self-reliance. And so, remembering that I am His little child, and throwing myself off the high cliff of my pride into the infinite ocean of His mercy, I ask: Give me love. 

I do not pray my friend’s prayer in the same form today. But I wanted to use it as a reminder for us to remain simple and needy, and to focus on the one thing we must seek: God, who is love. St. Faustina wrote of three virtues which she often asked of the Mother of God, and which our Lady commended her to seek: Humility, purity, and love. Humility, St. Faustina wrote, is nothing but the truth. God is God, I am not. ‘Humble’ comes from ‘humus’, which means ‘ground’. So when we are humble, we acknowledge how very little and unworthy we are. We also recall our fragility and dependence on the Creator, for from dust we came, and to dust we shall return. True humility, however, also acknowledges the greatness of God’s condescending love, and gives thanks when He raises us up from the dirt. And St. John of the Cross wrote in his commentary on The Spiritual Canticle: ‘Lovers are said to have their heart stolen or seized by the object of their love, for the heart will go out from self and become fixed on the loved object. Thus their heart or love is not for themselves but for what they love. Accordingly, the soul can know clearly whether or not she loves God purely. If she loves him her heart or love will not be set on herself or her own satisfaction or gain, but on pleasing God and giving him honor and glory. In the measure she loves herself, that much less she loves God.’ And so we must work hard, we must sweat and struggle in the work of the Kingdom of God; and our work is love. ‘But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ (Matt. 6:19-20) Our work is love, on which Jesus says hang all the law and the prophets, and as St. John of the Cross wrote, love is paid only with love itself. The ‘soul that loves God must not desire or hope for any reward for her services than the perfect love of God.’ So let us remember God, keeping Him in all our thoughts, reflecting on His love when we rise, pray, work, spend time with friends, and rest; let us live in such a way that we cannot succeed without His love; and let us seek His love, knowing we can do nothing, cannot love in return or love others, unless we first receive His love and desire Him who is Love with our whole being. We cannot give what we have not first received. So Kierkegaard wrote: 

‘O LORD, our relation to Thee is not like one which we might have with a man from whom we buy—it is first necessary for Thee to give and only then can we speak about our duty of buying what Thou hast given: faith, hope, charity, good aspirations, a favorable season. Thou givest everything and for nothing, without receiving any payment (for only the pagan who did not know Thee thought that the gods did not give something for nothing). But when Thou hast given Thou requirest that we buy from Thee what Thou hast given. Thus Thou dost humble Thyself to walk among us in our humanity and Thou art not ashamed of being our God, and yet toward Thee we act as we might toward a child; in giving him something, we pretend in order to give him pleasure that he himself will give us what we have given to him and what belongs to us. (And our relation with God is not even of this kind, for God is both the one who gives and the one who makes it possible for us to give. The situation would then be like that in which a father or a mother helps a child write an anniversary letter which the parent would later himself receive as a gift.)’ 

‘At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.’

St. John of the Cross 

‘Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.’- 1 Corinthians 13 

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