Monday, 25 March 2013

“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” – Philippians 2:5-8

The words above, found in last Sunday’s readings for Palm Sunday, St Cyril of Alexandria interpreted in a way that has always stuck with me. St Cyril says it was not despite the fact that the Son was God that He emptied Himself but because He was the Son: The outpouring of love from the Son to the Father is such that it is normal for the Son to give Himself totally in this way. God is, by His nature, a perfect relationship in which the persons are completely constituted by their relations.

It was the love of my wife that brought this teaching alive for me. It was the love of my wife that taught me that in giving myself I achieved happiness and if I could give myself totally, as God can because He is, I could gain total happiness. It was the love my wife that demonstrated to me what it is like to see, in human terms, what an outpouring of love and devotion looks like.

My wife is my teacher in the school of charity. I look at her with fascination, how she waits upon me, how she showers me with affection and a never ending kindness. She has abandoned everything for me and in doing so she has given me a living example of what the relations of God are like in their love and how a Christian should love.

God gives us the sacrament of matrimony so that through our love we can understand that He is love and he also uses marriage to explain His relationship to the Church. The letter to the Ephesians says ‘For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour… “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church’ (Ephesians 5:23 & 31-32).

When I see how my wife loves me with her total, innocent and absolute commitment I understand how I am supposed to love God. Her purity of heart, her truthfulness of feeling, the way she treats me is the way I am meant to approach God. Everything she does presents a beautiful lesson to me in Christian living which lets me see what I could be if my heart were open to Jesus in the right way. I am truly blessed to have been loved so much and I am grateful to God that He has given me a wife who can teach me so much about Himself and how He wants me to live as a Christian. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

‘For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called…In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer’ – Isaiah 54: 5 & 8

This weekend the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has repeatedly spoken about the forgiveness of God. God’s mercy is something no Christian can fail to hear about, especially now in Lent as we prepare to remember how Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins. Yet, personally speaking, until I answered my vocation to marry there was something missing in my appreciation of God’s love for humankind.

It was only when I began thinking of how much it would hurt me if my wife betrayed me that I started to see how much God loves us. The Bible often uses the image of husband and wife to explain the relationship between God and humans, but until I got married these passages did not really come alive for me. I love my wife more than I had ever imagined was possible and if she were to betray me I would be broken. It would be the deepest and most devastating blow to the heart that I can imagine. If she was tempted to break our marriage covenant, would I, could I forgive her? God loves humans in a way like I love my wife but to such a surpassing degree that actually it would be better to say God loves and I do not, my ‘love’ being a pale imitation of His. Yet, I, as a member of His bride the Church am constantly violating my covenant vows to God. ‘A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again’ (Proverbs 24:16) every day and I am far from righteous. Shamefully I am sinning almost continually, betraying God as if I had taken no vows to Him at all. If my wife did this to me it would snap my soul in two. How much more must it gnaw at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is filled with a love indescribably more than mine, to suffer so many betrayals?

Despite the depth of His love for us God is never slow to forgive us when we reject Him. In fact this whole season of Lent is an annual reminder that ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). I don’t know if I could accept a single adultery and yet from me, from everyone, God has accepted more adulteries than the stars of sky or grains of sand on the sea. In fact God continues to accept these adulteries and has even established the sacrament of Confession for us as a means to return to him because of our fickle nature. God loves us so much that He is willing to overlook a legion of sins so long as we are truly willing to turn to embrace Him time and time again. It is inconceivable to me to imagine forgiving my wife not just 7 times but 7 times 70 and yet God offers His bride that forgiveness without hesitation. This just shows how much more God loves us than we are even capable of truly grasping. The Divine Mercy is an illustration of how vast and incomprehensible the gap is between human and Heavenly love.

‘If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee’ (Psalm 130: 3-4) because God loves us so much that ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13). Pope Francis’ words about God’s forgiveness remind us how wonderful God’s love for humanity is. ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church’ (Ephesians 5:25). What a standard to live up to…

Sunday, 17 February 2013

“He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” – 1 John 4:8

One of the most important things the love of my beautiful wife has helped me understand is the truth of the Holy Trinity. Her love changed the dogma of the Holy Trinity from something I intellectualised to something I feel.

By loving my wife and being loved by her I learned that a perfect love would make us one. Our love made us more alike. The longer my wife and I spent together the more we became alike. We borrowed each others expressions, gestures and even habits. The more our minds became consumed with how to make one another happy the clearer it became that satisfying the other, not ourselves, gave us our greatest joy. Yet at the same time, as we became more alike and more self-giving, we also became more ourselves. My wife’s love and acceptance gave me the confidence to show her my truest self and she gave me the same honour. It was then that the truth of the Holy Trinity became alive in my heart and my mind: If I loved my wife perfectly I would become perfectly like her and yet this process of being identical would also give me my own true and distinct identity.

Humans are imperfect so we cannot love perfectly but God is Love itself so He can. We are the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and as creatures we reflect our Creator in how we love. Yet, the image is merely a reflection and like a reflection we are only because God Is. In humans existing and doing are not the same e.g. my existing is different to my loving my wife. This fact means I can grow and I can change, I can always go from potentially being something to actually being something. God however reveals himself to Moses as ‘I AM’ (Exodus 3:14), Being itself. St Thomas Aquinas calls God a ‘perfect act’ (ST 1, Q.2, Art.3) because God does not change from potentially being something to actually being something. God’s act of being is so perfect that it leaves no room for becoming something else. God is ‘the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (James 1:17). God cannot be ‘better’, God is ‘Best’. Indeed what we know as goodness, truth and beauty and so on even to their Nth degree are merely creations that reflect the Creator. When we use terms like this of God we are speaking analogously and saying what we understand these things to be is the closest we can get to knowing what God is (ST 1, Q.13, Art.5). In truth to call God Being means we have to refer to ourselves as becoming and if we refer to ourselves as being we must refer to God as ‘Beyond Being’ (DN 1, 1, 588A). To say we are loving means God is Love, to say we love makes God beyond love.

It is because God is so incomprehensibly perfect in love that He can be three persons yet one God. As the image of God we know by analogy through experience that love draws us into relationships. If our love leads to self-realisation through becoming more and more defined by the one we love we can see that God as Love must be constituted by a relationship: The perfection of the Trinity is that persons are entirely and perfectly defined by their relations to one another. This is because that is what it means to love in its truest sense and God is Love. Further, as what it means to love is to be in a relationship and God is by his nature the surpassing perfection of everything God must also by his nature be a relationship and exist as a relationship (ST 1, Q.2, Art.1-4). The persons do not start out separated as we do. God being a perfect act from all eternity exists as Love’s template in perfect self-giving relationship with the Trinity in an infinite embrace. Always three, always one. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Lover, the Loved and the Love between them (De Trinitate VIII, 10).