Re-reading Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR's book "Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones" 1987., Paulist Press, I cannot believe this valuable book is already 25 years old! How time flies. What have I learned? How are we doing in loving God? Should I even ask? Well, yes, it is a good question that for most has a sad answer. Even when Fr. Benedict asked the question in his book 25 years ago, he wrote, "The quality which helps us most to move toward humility and away from pride is the love of God. As we mentioned, the phrase "love of God" can mean two things. Here I refer to God's love which surrounds us. I am not convinced about our love for God. It doesn't impress me. Some people, especially the recently converted, are likely to be very impressed by the fact that they love religious things. They like to go to church and to pray. When they meditate, their heart may be curiously warmed. God seems very close to them. These things have happened to me and, regrettably, have co-existed very comfortably with my sins. The sins and prayers get all mixed together. No, our love of God is not very great."
So in this 25 years, have we progressed in our love for God? It is not likely. I say this because I know in my heart I say I love God, but I still sin, and often without giving it much thought. Those who love God try very, very hard to curtail sin and though none of us are perfect, trying, really trying does make a difference. The Lord fell three times as he carried his cross. We fall thousands of times as we carry our cross!
As Fr. Benedict also states, "St. Francis was filled with fear of hell because he felt he did not love God enough." Well, we belong to the OFS (Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis), the Secular Franciscan Order, and here "belong to" means we have committed our lives to live by the Rule of Saint Francis, so what St. Francis has left us in his writings pertains very much to how we conduct our lives in the face of God. We have to try even harder to avoid sin! Because when we do not do this, we simply do not love God enough!
What happens when we do not love God enough day after day? Well, if we make a habit of committing sin, especially mortal sin, we may end up standing before God someday, and he could point in the opposite direction. We could be denied eternal life. There are those who believe that no matter what we do here on earth, in the end God will forgive us and admit us to eternal life anyway. Maybe, but possible not. I wouldn't gamble my soul on a possibility - I rather try my very best to please God, because I truly love Him, than oppose Him. Many people say: "God understand me." Be careful with this statement, because God does not love the sin we commit. A wise Discalced Carmelite nun once told me (in German): "Gott könnte uns alle Schwierigkeiten aus dem Weg raumen. Er will aber Überwinder haben." - which means: God could remove all difficulties out of the way. He wants us to be conquerors. In other words, He does not desire weaklings who say, well, we all sin (as if that will make it alright.) He wants people who overcome sin and to whom loving God means honor, integrity and obedience!
I could write much more on this subject, but more words do not help. Loving God is real simply defined - when you love Him, you do not sin, and when you still sin, you do not love Him enough! It's that simple.... but it is difficult to do. He has given us many years, a short time to some, and many more years to others, to prove to Him that we love Him. Now, if we are a weakling, listen to St. Francis as he explains something about "beginning again." This is a perfect time to begin again. Go to Church and enjoy the Sacrament of Reconciliation, then begin again and sin no more.
It's really not that difficult when you take God seriously and if only we could try to LISTEN to what He tells us daily! It is a message of great love directed to us, personally.
God bless you!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
April 22, 2012