Our Lord and His Love

Christ at 33 by Heinrich Hofmann

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
(1 John 4:16)

In this world where almost everything is relative, we can know at least one absolute truth: Every human being alive in this world wants and needs to be loved, accepted, cherished and understood. And yet, as our society progresses by leaps and bounds in almost every imaginable field, the question remains: How come is it that more and more people in this world feel unloved, unworthy, unwanted and misunderstood?

There are at least two reasons for this strange phenomenon. First, our fast-paced society has created a culture where it is normal, and even acceptable, to demand instant gratification for virtually all of our needs. Delicious food is often just a phone call, or a short drive, away. Virtually limitless entertainment options are available at the touch of a button. The advent of the Internet has made endless possibilities of instant information, communication, and pleasure available to virtually anybody with an internet connection—they are all just one click away.

And yet, it is precisely this plethora of seemingly endless possibilities that has made us impatient and shortsighted. Love, by its very definition, requires us to participate in the mystery of another person’s being—it requires us to enter into another person’s world of joys and sufferings, fears and desires, traumas and aspirations. None of this is easy or instantaneous, and in a culture of instant connectivity and instant gratification, who has the time or audacity for such depth? Many are afraid of “missing out” on the endless opportunities out there if they commit themselves too deeply to any kind of love or devotion. The result is a reduction of “love” into some kind of intense, pleasurable emotion that can be accessed and enjoyed instantaneously. Unfortunately, such debasement of love ultimately fails to satisfy our deepest human longings and desires, and so many of us end up feeling more unloved and unwanted than ever.

The second reason of true love’s rarity has to do with our own humanity. Human beings are unique amongst species in the sense that despite being mortal, we are constantly tortured by the desire for Eternity. Physically, human beings are no different from any other living organism. We need nourishment and a suitable habitat to sustain life; we reproduce and bear young; we have a certain lifespan. Seen from a merely biological perspective, all organisms are in a march towards death and decay—even at our peak physical health, and well-being—we need to daily clean and nourish ourselves, as well as get enough rest in order to keep disease, decay, and death at bay. In the same way, our clothing and possessions need to be regularly washed and cleaned so as to be conducive to our health and vitality. And yet, even as these signs of decay and mortality daily knock on our doors, we loathe looking at them in the eye.

We disdain those whose jobs remind us of these signs of decay—those working as maids, janitors, and sanitation workers, for example. We call them menial laborers—those who labor at menial work and drudgery. No matter how highly we pay them, it is hard to think highly of them, for to do so would mean that we must come face-to- face with our own mortality.

So great is our desire for Eternity, that when we are in love, or enjoying something immensely, we want it to last forever. We rebel against fate, and against one another, when that bliss is suddenly taken away from us.

Instinctively, we feel entitled to live in a world of love, beauty, joy, peace, and fairness. It is as Scripture proclaims: He has put eternity into man’s heart1. This is why some of us are so addicted to pleasure (be it in the form of material goods, popularity, power, sex, or illicit substances): Those pleasurable sensations give us a taste of Eternity, and when they wear off, we desire more, and more of them. This disgust of mortality, and desire for Eternity, are innate to our human nature.

It is into this world of conflict and conflicting desires that our Lord came. The Bible calls him Faithful and True2: Our Savior and Redeemer; the God of peace, hope, and joy3. At this point, some skeptics may ask: Out of the myriads of different beliefs and religions out there, how do we know that this one is credible? How do we know for sure that our Lord is the Way, the Truth and the Life4, the answer to all of our hearts’ desires?

All the myriad religions that have existed since the beginning of human civilization share a similar characteristic: The belief in an omnipotent and immortal being (or beings) who govern the world, and determine (or influence, to a certain extent) what happens therein. Some of these religions hold that their gods have come in human form, but always as rarefied, lofty beings who came for a time, and then went back to their esoteric paradise. So accustomed are we to this concept of God who is a mere “spectator” of our sufferings that when some tragedy befalls us, we often exclaim: “Where is God in all of this? If He exists, He wouldn’t have let this happen to me!” By this we imply, of course, that if God existed, He wouldn’t just be sitting there, a merry spectator in Heaven, looking down at me. But the Christian God is not a mere spectator of our joys and sufferings. Far from it! It is true that, on the one hand, He is the omnipotent God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light5. But on the other hand, this very same God also emptied Himself, taking the nature of a servant6, out of love for us. In fact, the depth of His self-abasement is most astonishing. From his birth in a manger, to his death on a cross, it was a life completely devoid of privileges. In ancient times, death on a cross is the most shameful, painful, and humiliating of all deaths. And yet, our Lord’s love went even further. He didn’t merely suffer horribly for a few short years out of love for us, and then went back to Paradise to be a merry spectator of our travails. No! He went even further: He made us the very members of His Body. Scriptures reiterate this multiple times:

After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.7
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it8.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?9
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?10

Now, let us take a minute to contemplate what it means to be a member of His Body. It means, first of all, that God is never a mere spectator of our joys and sufferings. He is not simply hovering over us, or walking beside us. No, God dwells within us, and knows us much more intimately than we know ourselves. In times of pain, fear, and sufferings, He shares our burdens; He carries them with us, and for us. Scriptures make this very clear: When Saul was persecuting the early Christians, our Lord appeared to him, asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me11?” Notice that he did not ask, “Saul, why do you persecute my followers?” And again, at the Last Judgment, the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink12… Notice that He will not say, “Let me reward you, for you took pity on that poor guy, and gave him something to eat.” No!

On the Cross, as at all times, He dwells within our mortality, and shares in all our symptoms of death and decay, infusing us with His divine presence. On the Cross, as at all times, He is both Victim and Victor—seemingly victimized through arbitrary circumstances, He is, in fact, triumphing over evil, and redeeming a multitude of souls for His Father’s Kingdom13.

Nowhere is this Love more palpable than in the Eucharist. Whenever we enter any Eucharistic Adoration chamber, we are always confronted by a similar scene: The Host, white and plain, exposed in a gilded monstrance, and occupying a central position. It is as if He is speaking to us: I, the magnificent King of all worlds, desire you; I thirst for you. What kind of God would abase Himself to such an extent, that He knocks patiently on the doors of our hearts, waiting to nourish us with His own Self! And yet, that is exactly what our Lord does. Not even the hardest skeptic can argue with His declaration: Greater Love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends.14

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you15.

This kind of Love is so extravagant and astounding that our poor minds and hearts, inured to the coldness and brutalities of this world, may instinctively refuse to trust it. I am reminded here of the Israelites whom God rescued out of Egypt, whose hearts had been hardened by four centuries of enslavement16. They had been so accustomed to being abused and mistreated that they simply couldn’t trust in God’s goodness. Every time they encountered difficulties in the desert, they always suspected God of having evil plans for them17.

If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword18? If only we had meat to eat! But now we have lost our appetite, we never see anything but this manna19!

They were just too scared to trust in His love or promises. All they saw was the desert—barren, menacing, inhospitable, with memories of past cruelties haunting them all the time.

It is the same with us. It is as if our hearts, traumatized by the cruelties and injustices of this world, are always on the lookout for scams, for possibilities of disasters and betrayals. We are so inclined towards wariness and distrust that we find it difficult to trust God completely. And yet He patiently waits for us; He longs to reveal Himself to us and make His home in our hearts20.

“Come and learn from me,” He is constantly saying, “for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.21

All Christian growth is based on love22. Without full trust in the Father’s love and goodness, there can be no spiritual growth. That is why our Lord said repeatedly, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven23.”

A common feature of childhood everywhere is trust. Children trust in the goodness of this world, in the unlimited brightness of their future, and in the goodness of those around them. As we grow up and witness the various cruelties and injustices of this world, however, we gradually lose our trust and hope, which in turn makes it difficult for us to surrender ourselves completely to God’s love.

And yet, without welcoming the Father’s love into our hearts, and immersing ourselves in Him, there can be no Christian life. Whenever our Lord gives a command—be it loving and forgiving our enemies, persevering in prayer, not being anxious, or not showing off our acts of piety—He always gives one single reason for it: Because you are beloved children of your heavenly Father24.

When the early Christians were fighting with one another and committing immoral acts, St. Paul didn’t threaten them with a long list of punishments. Rather, he reminded them of their true identity in Christ:

Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!25

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!26

So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God27.

In everything, the saints continually exhort us: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…28

Our world today is a confused world. Wanting to be masters of themselves, many people have rejected God, and yet they don’t know what to do with the desire for Eternity burning up in their hearts. They cannot quench this innate desire, nor can they allay their fears of abandonment, dejection, and destitution—all symptoms of our fallen world. Confused, afraid, and lost, they can only assuage their fears by pursuing brief sensations of pleasure, which give them a passing taste of Eternity without showing them its true meaning or purpose. In their confusion and fear of abandonment, they are constantly crying out for more “rights”—the right to die, the right to be unfaithful, the right to reject their offspring—in the vain hope that gaining more “rights” will help assuage their fears, and satiate that ever-burning thirst for Eternity.

We, the Church, and beloved bride of Christ, must respond to their cries with mercy. We must acknowledge the source of their fears and longings, and gently guide them to the true Source of all Love, who alone can satisfy them, and quench all their desires. We must gently tell them that there are two ways of life to choose from. The way of this world sees us as vulnerable organisms living in an inhospitable desert, constantly prone to dangers and disasters, steadily marching towards death and decay. Its only escape lies in passing mirages, and fleeting sensations of pleasure, which ultimately can never satisfy our hearts. On the other hand, there is the Way of the Cross—the way of Love, Joy, and Peace. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world.” This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith29. Those who carry their crosses with eyes fixed on Christ always carry them with joy, for they know that they are progressing towards everlasting glory. As Scripture proclaims:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory30.

Notice the change in perspective. Those who subscribe to the way of this world will often see their pain as unbearable and insurmountable, for they—in a relentless march towards death and decay—can see no meaning or purpose to it. But we Christians know that we are being groomed to inherit our Father’s Kingdom, which has been prepared for us since the creation of the world31. There, we shall reign with Christ and have authority over the nations32. We shall occupy the roles meant for us before this fallen age of sin and death, and have responsibilities far beyond our earthly capacities—some of which will include judging this world and the fallen angels33. In this present age, we know that all our tears and pain are precious to Him, that they are valuable for the salvation of souls, and that He always partakes of our chalice, carrying us always in His infinite, tender Love.

St. Paul compares the trials of our present age to the groans of a woman in labor34, expecting the birth of a new and glorious age. With eyes fixed on Christ and His Love, Christians know how to regard the trials of this life as passing storms, meant to strengthen and prepare us for eternal glory.

But what do we do when we find our hearts discouraged and embittered? There is only one remedy: Consider Him35—fix your eyes on His Love. This is the secret of all those who love God; this is how the apostles and the saints—amidst a multitude of seemingly endless tribulations—were able to rejoice always36, and exhort others to do the same. Indeed, compared to the depth of His Love, all trials will seem light and momentary37.

His is a Love that conquers all, that permeates all and triumphs over all—if only we trust in Him and fix our hearts on Him alone. It is no wonder, then, that the saints continually speak of this infinite and prodigious Love:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God38.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.39

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!40

Indeed, Jesus is not only our Lord and Savior, He is also our dearest Brother and Friend, who is constantly interceding for us, and deeply desires to commune with us41. Out of love for us, He has become a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering42, knowing intimately our anguish, sorrows, and fears, and making them His own. Every single day He postpones His coming another day that He spends living with us, communicating His love to us, suffering and rejoicing with us.

And what of the angels, His heavenly hosts? By virtue of our being members of their Lord’s Body, they are always ready to help us, comfort us, and strengthen us. The saints and citizens of Heaven are not mere spectators of our travails; they are deeply concerned for us—they weep and rejoice for us43; they are always eager to help us in our earthly pilgrimage.

How sad and ironic it is, that most Christians do not walk with eyes fixed on Heaven, and the Love of Christ. Instead, we fix our eyes on this world, and its host of problems and uncertainties, and then cry out to God in terror, anguish, and pain when troubles come. What a victory it is for the evil one, when a Christian dares not trust his Lord’s love! For without persevering trust in His Love, there can be no spiritual growth, no lasting fruit, no salvation of souls44.

And yet, when we finally dare to trust Him, and walk in His love, we shall find ourselves gradually be transformed into His likeness, with ever increasing glory45. Our minds, hearts, and souls shall be transformed into His likeness, and we will learn to see everything through the lens of His infinite love. And we will be able to radiate this same Love to others. For it is this Love that the world so desperately seeks, which can be found in no other but Christ, which alone can satisfy our heart’s longings and desires. As our Lord himself proclaims:

As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another46.

Let us, then, continue to walk in His love. Let us contemplate His merciful gaze in the Scriptures, in the Eucharist, in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As we learn to live and trust in Him, we may find that our “Whys” have gradually been transformed. From asking in bitterness and confusion, while witnessing the vicissitudes of this world, “Why, Lord, must this happen to me? Why must this happen to others?” we may find ourselves asking, instead, “Why am I so favored, Lord, that You come for me47?”

May the Lord direct our hearts into God’s love, and Christ’s perseverance48.

  1. Ecclesiastes 3:11b
  2. Revelations 19:11
  3. John 15:11; Romans 15:13, 33; 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 4:9.
  4. John 14:6
  5. 1 Timothy 6:15-16
  6. Philippians 2:7
  7. Ephesians 5:29-30
  8. 1 Corinthians 12:27
  9. 1 Corinthians 6:15
  10. 1 Corinthians 6:19
  11. Acts 9:4
  12. Matthew 25:34-35
  13. Cf. Colossians 2:14-15
  14. John 15:13
  15. John 15:15
  16. Genesis 15:13, Acts 7:6
  17. Exodus 14:11-12, 16:3, 17:3.
  18. Numbers 14:1-3
  19. Numbers 11:4-6
  20. John 14:23
  21. Matthew 11:28-30
  22. Ephesians 4:14-16, 1 John 4:16
  23. Matthew 18:13, 19:14; Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:16-17
  24. Matthew 5:14-16, 43-48; 6:1-18, 25-34; 7:7-11; Luke 12:29-32
  25. 1 Corinthians 6:2-3
  26. 1 Corinthians 6:15
  27. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23
  28. Ephesians 5:1-2
  29. 1 John 5:4
  30. Romans 8:16-17
  31. Matthew 25:34
  32. Revelations 2:26-27, 3:21
  33. 1 Corinthians 6:2-3
  34. Romans 8:18-27
  35. Hebrews 12:2-3
  36. Romans 12:12, 15:13; Philippians 4:4-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
  37. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
  38. Ephesians 3:17-19
  39. Romans 8:35, 37-39
  40. 1 John 3:1
  41. John 15:13-15, Romans 8:29, Hebrews 2:10-18
  42. Isaiah 53:3, cf. Hebrews 2:18, 4:15-16, 5:7-9.
  43. Luke 15:7,10; see also Hebrews 12:1, 22-24.
  44. John 13:34-35, 15:9-10; Mark 4:16-19; Luke 8:11-15; 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
  45. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, cf. Romans 12:2
  46. John 13:34-35
  47. Cf. Luke 1:43
  48. 2 Thessalonians 3:5
Audrey Yu About Audrey Yu

Audrey Yu is a Chinese Indonesian teacher and author, currently living and working in Shanghai. She graduated Summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from The College of William and Mary, Virginia, USA at the age of 16. Some of her books have been archived by various institutions worldwide, including The National Library of Congress, Yale University, Harvard University, The National Library of Australia and many others. By the grace of God, she was received into the Catholic church three years ago. Her personal website can be accessed at www.audreyyujiahui.com.

Comments

  1. Tom McGuire says:

    Audry, your essay deeply touched my heart; you captured core human experiences I could certainly relate to. Your integration of the Word of God into the description of these experiences is a great proclamation of the Good News. Thank you for giving me this gift.

    When I visited your website, I became aware of the concrete reality of what you wrote about in this essay. Your contemplative prayer has given you great insights into the meaning of the Paschal Mystery, Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. You have much to give as a missionary disciple in helping people to connect their joys and suffering to being in Christ.

    As I read your essay, a prayer from the Mass kept running through my mind. It is a “secret prayer” because the priest prays it in silence. When he pours a few drops of water into the wine, he prays
    “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” This is an amazing reality that lies at the heart of everything you shared about Love of God. I invite you to explore this prayer.

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging words! I’ve just moved to the States to study theology at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. (A priest recommended this school to me) School will start in a few weeks; please pray for a smooth transition into my new life, lots of friendships and good health! :-) may the Lord bless you and your family abundantly.