How do I love you? Let me count the ways. So begins one of the most famous and beautiful sonnets ever written (Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning). Today’s scripture readings talk a lot about love. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God” advises the first letter from St. John. So, let’s think a little about how God loves us – let us count the ways. How do you know God loves you?
Many see the beauty of nature as proof of God’s love. The grandeur of mountains, the quiet of the deep woods, the dark heavens ablaze with stars. Psalm 8 expresses this timelessly – “When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place – what is man that You are mindful of him? ‘
Human love is proof of God’s love. The love of parent and child, the love of spouses for each other – is this not just a foretaste of the greater love God has for you?
How about grace? Are the graces God sends daily not proof of love? Without the graces of baptism, you would still be unsanctified. God sends actual graces to help in your quest for holiness.
The most important and perfect way to know that God loves you is that God sent Jesus into your world as a sacrifice for your sins. “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him” (1 Jn:9).
It would actually be impossible to count the ways that God loves us. God who is infinite loves infinitely.
You need to know the person you love. This seems obvious. And God does know you far better than you know yourself. God knew you from the moment of your conception and knows your thoughts before you think them. God knows you intimately, not just the face you show the world, or the person society wants you to be. God sees past the identity that others project on you and even past the person you tell yourself you are.
So yes, God knows you. And because God knows you perfectly, God’s love for you is perfect. God respects you. The ultimate proof of respect is free will. God knows you fully, knows absolutely what is best for you, and yet God allows you to make your own choices, including the choice to love. God does not treat you as someone forced to love. “I no longer call you slaves; I have called you friends “says Jesus in the Gospel we just read.
How then do we love God? Can we count the ways?
“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love”, said Jesus. Sounds pretty clear. Keeping God’s commandments is how we show that we love God. But again, God does not want non-thinking robots that simply follow instructions. God wants you to know and choose to love.
Just as God knows you perfectly and loves perfectly, you strive to know God better to love God better. The more you know about God, the more perfectly you love him. That means knowing God as God really is, not the God that society pretends to believe in, or the God that you want, or even the God you knew as a child or for that matter yesterday. God is infinite so there are infinite ways to know God.
How can you know God better so as to love God more perfectly? There is only one answer- spend time with God. Spend time in prayer, in contemplation, even arguing with God. One way we learn about someone is to ask questions. When you ask, however, you must be prepared to listen to the answers.
Our psalm today reminds us that “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.” (Ps 98) Our Catholic faith is based on divine revelation. It what other ways does God reveal himself, so that you can know and love him better? God is revealed in the scriptures, for one. The scriptures were written by God the Holy Spirit. So read the Bible to know God. If uncertain where to start, begin with the Gospels. Or ask God in prayer what scripture would be most beneficial to study.
Alongside scripture, God is revealed through the divine revelation called Tradition. Tradition is not the written words of Scripture by themselves, but the words of Scripture lived out in the life of the Church as she contemplates, meditates on, and puts into effect those words. The Catechism teaches that “Both Scripture and Tradition are accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence”. (CCC 82)
God is revealed through creation. In the grandeur of mountain and the dark heavens alight with stars. Observe the world around you and draw some logical conclusions about God. Everything in creation is ordered, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galaxy. All the sciences have the goal of understanding the truth of that order. Many scientists have come to know God by studying God’s revelation in nature. Of course, a college degree isn’t needed to see God in creation. Use your native power of reasoning in studying the world and all its creatures to “perceive from them how…powerful is he who formed them.” (Wis 13:4).
How does God love you, and how do you love God? Let us count the ways. God gave commandments to follow not as a servant but as God’s friend. Jesus is proof of God’s love. God knows you perfectly and so loves perfectly, and to love God more perfectly, seek always to know God better through all the ways God reveals himself.
God loves you and sent his Son as expiation for your sins. (1 Jn 4:10)