Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Focus on God's Love!

The more I pray the Maronite Liturgy of the Hours, the more I am drawn in by it's beauty and theological richness. At least in its English translation, the language is very simple and direct. Although it is poetic in its own way, it does not engage poetry to quite the extent that the Byzantine tradition does. Rather it is very simple in its poetry, maintaining what, to me, is a nice balance between the dignified prose of the Roman tradition and the poetic richness of the Byzantine tradition.

But what draws me in to this the most is its emphasis on the Light of Christ, the mercy of God, the steadfast love of the Trinity, while at the same time reminding us that we are sinners in need of that mercy, love and light. Whereas in other traditions it seems to me that the emphasis is on our sinfulness, the Maronites seem to focus on God's mercy and His plan of salvation. Certainly we are to acknowledge our sins and failings, but not to the point that we lose sight of God's love. To lose sight of God's love is not moving from darkness to light, but from darkness to deeper darkness. I forget where I read it, but I recall reading in some spiritual work that to overly focus on our sinfulness is not humility, but is actually a form of pride. Are we sinners? Sure. We have to acknowledge that. But we must acknowledge all the more that our God is a God of love and mercy. Not the kind of love that is wishy-washy - a mere "warm fuzzy" feeling; nor the kind of mercy that is indulgent. God's love is a love that seeks what is best for us. His mercy is a mercy that recognizes the reality of who we are. God is patient for us to become who and what He created us to be, and so His love for us remains steadfast even when our love for Him falters and our commitment to Him wavers.

In Safro/Morning Prayer this morning we prayed that our minds may always focus on God's love for us, not on our own sinfulness.

" You are the Light that is never extinguished, the Day that never ends, the Morning that has no night.
Lord, may the eyes of our hearts be illumined by your light,
and the rising of your day be  the source of all good.
May our minds be focused on your love.
In your kindness you free us from the darkness of night and
draw us to the light of day;
by the power of your word disperse the evils that come to us.
Thus through your wisdom we will conquer the snares of the
evil one who dons the garb of an angel of light.
Guard us from works of darkness, and keep our gaze fixed on
your resplendent light."
(emphasis mine)

When we focus on the love of God and His steadfast mercy towards us, the snares of the enemy cannot trap us. If, however, we become so self-invovled that we focus primarily on our own sinfulness and the darkness within us, as well as the darkness throughout the rest of the world, then how can we help but fall into the traps of the evil one?

But what is this love and mercy that God has shown and continues to show to us? We pray over it every day. We talk about it almost constantly. But do we ever stop to think about it? Do we ever allow the reality of God's love and mercy sink in? Here is what the Sedro of Safro/Morning prayer has to say:

Christ Jesus, our Lord, God and Savior,
you are long-suffering, full of grace and truth.
You created us from nothing and gave us life.
After the fall you redeemed us and made us your children by
holy baptism.
Now we implore your merciful goodness, as we remember all
you have done for us:

your birth, baptism, crucifixion, death and burial;
your resurrection, ascension, reign at the right hand
of the Father;
your return in judgment when you will come in
glory, on behalf of the Father, to judge the living
and the dead.

We beg you to accept from us, poor and sinful servants, these
prayers and supplications.
Hear the call of our weakness and the plea of our repentance.
Lord, do not turn your face from us in anger;
do not let your justice threaten us.
Remember not the faults and shameful sins we have committed;
do not find us guilty at the moment of judgment
and do not cast us, who have acknowledged you, into the darkness
with those who have not known you.
Grant rather, that purified by our tears of penitence,
we may escape the moaning and gnashing of teeth,
and meet you with confidence at your Second Coming.
(emphasis mine)

We implore God's mercy "as we remember all" He has done for us. Bear in mind that when the Church uses the language of "memory" She uses it in the more ancient sense of making that which is remembered present to those who are remembering. When we remember all that God has done for us, we make present for us the saving reality of God's actions in history, especially as the culminate in the Person of Jesus, Who was born, baptized, crucified, buried, is risen and ascended and enthroned at the right hand of the Father. We remember Jesus, Who will come on behalf of the Father to judge the living and the dead. This is what God - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - has done for us. The Second Person of the Trinity became one of us "in all things but sin," died for us in order to conquer the reign of death and darkness, and rose for us that we might rise to glory. He did all of this for us! God does not need us to glorify Him. God does not need us for anything. But in His love for us He wants to give us everything, and He has sacrificed everything - His only Son - in order that we might have everything - the very life of the Trinity!

That is why we can pray that God not look upon our faults and failings; that He withhold His justice and instead show us His mercy and compassion. That is why we can ask Him not to find us guilty at the moment of judgment. We are all guilty of sin, and even the smallest sin deserves eternal punishment (think about that one for a moment). But God was and is willing to do everything to be with us and to have us with Him. All we have to do is keep our minds focused on His love and our gaze fixed upon His light. When we do this, all our sins, faults and bad habits will melt away. Then we can truly stand with confidence before Christ at His Second Coming. We are confident not because we have overcome our sinful nature. No! We are confident in the love God has for us and the mercy He has shown us.

Remember, however, there is a difference between confidence and presumption. Presumption assumes that God will give us the reward even if we have done nothing on our part to merit it. Confidence is to stand in the presence of God knowing that, despite the fact that you have fallen many times, you have persevered in the struggle. You have worked out your salvation in fear and trembling, trusting in the saving power of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, not in your own ability to save yourself. Confidence is knowing that you have worked in synergy with God's plan of salvation. What we do, ultimately, is nothing compared to what God has done for us. We are the baby who takes one step towards its parent and then tumbles. God is the Father Who sees His child taking that one step, and then runs across the room to scoop them up with pride and shed tears of joy over a single step. We have a loving Father. May His love consume us!

1 comment:

  1. This was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I am greatly enjoying reading all of your blog posts. I am a new convert to Catholicism (from Protestant Evangelicalism), and am finding myself drawn to the spirituality of Eastern Christianity. What a treasure we have in the Church!

    Do you know where I might find a copy of the Maronite Liturgy of the Hours from which you quoted?