Well, one way is by considering what he asks of us, and in asking, gives us the grace to live
How do you know that God is good?
One way that I know that God is good is that Divine Providence allowed me to spend most of my 20s seeing vivid examples of what I didn’t want to do with my life.
Two illustrations: I knew of a well-intentioned fellow who was elected to the legislature. He asked the seniormost member of his party what his top priority should be. He was told: “Re-election.” How to get re-elected? “Become popular.” How to become popular? “Go to lots of parties, and offer taxpayers’ money to important people for things they really want.” In other words, “Steal, and use people by helping them to love things.” Thanks. Lesson learned.
Next illustration: I spent four summers as an undergraduate working in an office. Every morning, the married women of that office gathered at the water cooler to discuss the latest crimes, misdemeanors, and transgressions committed by their respective husbands. The women would determine the “punishment” that should be meted out to their husbands, using the following formula: “The greater the crime, the more expensive the appeasing gift must be.” In other words, “Marriage is a carefully calculated system of transactions, based on carefully monitored incentives and disincentives.” Thanks. Lesson learned.
The above represent a common but not-quite-human approach to human interaction. It reduces human persons to units of material cost or material benefit.
A more human approach (at least at first glance) is to like the people you like, love the people who love you, and hate (or at least disregard) everyone else. But it would be a mistake to say that’s a fully human approach to human relationships. It is, in fact, the way of fallen humanity, which is to say, it is the way of humans rendered incomplete and dysfunctional by sin.
Our Blessed Lord offers a more truly human way that is fully human because it is truly divine. Let’s recall Jesus’ lesson from Matthew 5:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What can we expect if we love that way? If we’re smart, we’ll expect nothing.
Loving enemies and praying for persecutors isn’t a strategy. It’s not a procedure for self-advancement. It is, however, a means of union with God by imitating his Christ. It is a way that is authentically human because it mirrors the divine creator in whose image we were made. It is a preparation for the happiness of Heaven. And Heaven won’t be the least attractive to us (and will be absolutely inaccessible to us) if we are not striving right now to love as Christ loves.
Loving enemies and praying for persecutors isn’t a strategy.
St. Ignatius Loyola can help us with this task. His First Principle and Foundation: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.”
What matters is not wealth or poverty, sickness or health, long life or short. All is optional—except attaining our end by offering perfect praise and love to God by imitating his Christ.
Saint Ignatius also teaches that the hallmark of spiritual maturity is when we
… love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.
In other words, we must strive to be able to say honestly to each and all: “Because of who God is, and because of who you are to God, I choose to love and serve you.” Not as a political strategy, not as a tactic for gain, but because I seek union with God by loving as Christ loves—freely, fully, faithfully and fruitfully.
It will help greatly if I remind myself frequently: “If God can love a ridiculous creature like me, one who is self-satisfied, self-deluded, one who has offended God infinitely, then surely I can offer compassion to another human being whom God loves just as much.”
Of course, living to such a high standard, which is fulfillingly human because it is truly divine, is beyond the reach of fallen man. That means it’s time to go to confession, get to Mass, take up our rosary, and get to work.
When I write next, I will speak of converts and conversion. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.