By Msgr Philip Heng, SJ
Why is loving God so difficult and demanding? This question is far more complex than it appears and more so for those who are going through the painful challenges of life.
Loving God is difficult. What does this mean? Loving God is difficult if the love we have for ourselves is a self-centred love. Many of us are often in conflict between knowing how much to love God and how much we are to love ourselves, as we are often blinded by our self-centred love.
Such self-centred love often includes the narrow and preoccupied love we have for our family; making us oblivious to the needs outside our families (e.g. poor, needy, church building fund and the like).
If we reflect on this common human experience more deeply and if we are inspired by the Holy Spirit, there should be no conflicts between loving God and loving ourselves. If we love Jesus deeply enough, then the Spirit will guide us to develop a heart that is discerning. We can presume that God’s will is for us to love ourselves
and others in wholesome ways.
Related to these challenges are the common experiences of God being “demanding”; especially so, for those of us who find the living of the Gospel values of Jesus to be very challenging to fulfil like: forgiving and relating to someone with compassion when he/she has hurt us deeply and even destroyed the family (e.g. through infidelity).
Other “demands” of God could be perceived as the need to live a more moral and upright life, to care and serve those in need selflessly, and to share our blessings of time, talents and treasures from God generously; for the greater good of people in need, the Church and most importantly, for the greater glory of God.
St Paul in his letter to the Romans 7:18-19 says, “in my unspiritual self – for though the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not, with the result that instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want.” Reflect on these inner struggles and conflicts of St Paul and ask ourselves, “How true is this of me?”
Loving God is difficult and demanding if we are not clear about the meaning of love. If our love for God is not deep enough, then whatever penetrates our minds and seeps into our hearts from the secular world will influence our thinking and mould our values.
As such, the meaning of true love as proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel, will be confused with romantic infatuation, passing attractions of physical looks, intelligence, social status, popularity and the fantasies that go with such a secular world view of love that does not bring peace, let alone fulfilment and lasting happiness in our lives.
Essentially, such distorted forms of love are forms of self-centred love that feed and gratify our senses, but at the same time dilute, distort and even destroy relationships; including our family, priesthood and Religious vocation.
The true meaning of love that Jesus proclaims is a commitment to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind (Mt 22:37), and our neighbours as Jesus loves us. Such love for others as Jesus has for us and continues to love us (Jn 13:34) must be the centre and foundation of all our love. As such, the fundamental challenge you and I face is: “How deep is our love for God?”
If our love for Jesus is deep, personal and intimate, then our self-love will be wholesome and in accordance with God’s will, and for His greater glory.
We will then have Jesus’ light and love to live in the wisdom that is inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit of the Risen Lord; a wisdom that gives us the peace that the world cannot give, and a love for God that will be filled with deep and lasting joy and happiness, instead of a love that is difficult and demanding.
Msgr Heng is the rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.