Reading some amazing stuff this week by one of the “Old Guys” of the Church. In On Loving God St. Bernard, as the spiritual leader of a monastery, speaks of how we discover love, and how that love can lead us to God.
First, there is the step we are all familiar with: Loving ourselves, for ourselves. Jesus Christ said we should love our neighbors as ourselves, so some latter-day genius has decided that we all need to learn to love ourselves. A lot of people have jumped onto this, since everybody likes a good mirror. There's really no challenge here. Sometimes you'll see some kind of mirror out in public, maybe in a clothing store, or even on the front of a store building. Watch that mirror, or rather, watch people walking past it and see how many will look at themselves in it, at least cutting their eyes over to it, as they pass. Learning to love ourselves is little more than polishing our mirrors to get a more pleasing look at ourselves. If our neighbor is in real need, then we're sorry to hear that- If we have a need, then the world stops until that need is met. And so our world stops, and we begin to pray. Is this a bad thing? This is a good thing, because even though we might blame ourselves for asking, it is God's great delight to care for our needs!
Then, we begin to love God for our own sake. We learn to love God for His benefits. This is good, because He loves to care for us, and to use His gifts to teach us about Himself. “This is love,” the apostle says, “not that we love God, but that He loved us, and gave Himself for us.” Comparing our own abilities with His, we can say that this is much like a small child who loves nothing more than her own convenience. When she is hungry, or tired, or wet, then that is the One Thing that must be addressed, and there is no peace until it is. That child is not being selfish, as we count selfishness, but is simply being honest about her situation, and doing what she must to get the care she needs. Again, Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive,” and the picture there, from the Greek it was first written down in, was to “ask, and keep on asking.” Later we read, “Pray (make requests) without ceasing,” and “Pray everywhere.” God knows that we're not Him, and we don't need to be. He is able to meet our needs; we just need to keep that communcation open!
After getting a taste of how good the Lord is, we begin to love Him for His own sake. As that same child grows, she learns to appreciate her parents for a lot more things than just warm milk or dry diapers (nappies?), and begins to find satisfaction in the sound of a voice, or the touch of a hand, even when she has needs. Not only does God provide for us when we pray, but there are so many things He already has provided, which we just didn't notice before; but as we learn to know Him we begin to recognise things He has done which had escaped our short sight before, and all this gives us more to acknowledge, and our lives begin to be filled, not with just a love for ourselves and concern for our own convenience, but the love of God begins to take its place, and for the first time we are able to genuinely love our neighbors for their own good and not for the satisfaction we might get from doing them good. Jesus words begin to take root in our lives as He said, “Freely you have received, freely give.”
Then, the circle begins to close to perfection as we learn to love ourselves for His sake It is more common in our culture for, say, a newlywed or someone deeply in love with another to looks in the mirror and is glad to see the face of the one their beloved loves. No bride or groom is any more than the smallest glimpse of this kind of acceptance, and His forgiveness is bounded only by our willingness to repent (and even then, He graciously supplies us that willingness as we ask Him!). The Psalmist wrote, “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” we learn that our own strength is limited, but His is boundless, and is “mighty on our behalf,” so that He becomes our main desire. Bernard writes, “And real happiness will come, not in gratifying our own desires, or in gaining transient pleasures, but in accomplishing God's will for us, even as we pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Our greatest pleasures in this life surpassed by the joy of pleasing Him Who died and rose for us! Some writers say this last love is only found in heaven. Surely, it will be perfected there in measures we cannot imagine here, but is it not possible to love God for the wonder of Who He is, and for the beauty of His presence here on earth? Those writers say that this only can happen at death, but then the Bible says that death is the last enemy that will be destroyed at the Last Day. Can death, then, be our sanctifier and our best friend? Jesus said that “with God, all things are possible,” so is it not more reasonable to look to God, the Holy Spirit, to perfect His work in our lives?