The Collect for the sixth Sunday of Easter
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
The gift of loving God
O God, I do not love you. I do not want to love you. But I want to want to love you.
-A prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Avila
The wisdom of Teresa, coming to us from the sixteenth century, makes the point we heard in church yesterday in the collect (above). In a word, we need help. The prayer signals our absolute dependence on God for all things, including the ability to love God. That kind of love comes as a gift for which we pray.
That may run counter to how we think about love, a many splendored thing. We may think that love is involuntary. We fall in love. It takes over. We may think that love is something we choose, a decision we make. It’s up to us.
Yesterday’s collect says something different. It says that even our ability to love God is a gift, a grace. That wisdom echoes what we heard in a prayer earlier in the Easter season as we ask God to increase in us gifts of faith, hope and charity, asking God to make us love what God commands.
If I take a good look in the mirror, with a searching spiritual inventory of my soul, I can admit that left to my own devices, I may be able to count on loving myself (looking out for number one), and probably not a whole lot more. It’s why I appreciate the candid prayer of St. Teresa.
It’s why the words of the confession in our liturgy provide a good starting point, being realistic about where we are. We confess that we have not loved God fully. We have not loved neighbor as self. There’s not a day that that is not true in my life. There’s always a way to grow in that regard. The growth can happen when we recognize we need God’s activity in our lives to make that happen, to be transformed. Heaven may be that place where such love is fully realized. It may not happen until then.
I recently read a story Jesus told (Luke 7:36-50). While visiting a home of a Pharisee (I sometimes wonder if they were the Episcopal clergy of the day), a woman of questionable reputation comes in and anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears, pouring expensive perfume on those dusty feet, drying those dirty feet with her hair, an intimate act of loving worship. Jesus compares her action to the ho-hum complacency of the Pharisee, who made no fuss about Jesus’ presence. Jesus says that one who has an awareness of being forgiven is more inclined to deep love than someone like this Pharisee who seems to think that God is lucky to have him on the team.
I’m wondering this morning what has prompted love of God in your life? Did that prompting feel like a gift? Did it feel like a choice? Was it some awareness of God’s grace, the knowledge of forgiveness, the glimmer of being on the receiving end of unconditional love? Was it some sense, amidst all the challenges of life, that we are surrounded by gift?
As you think about that, consider what the collect says about the love of God. It lets us know the love of God is our aim. That’s not because God is in need of affirmation or approval. Rather, the collect contends that love of God allows us to obtain the promises offered by God. In other words, it fulfills God’s best intention for us. It fits the way we were designed. With that in mind, think this week about the growth opportunity that lies before you to grow in love of God. If you’re not sure how to go about that, channel the feisty saint from the sixteenth century, St. Teresa, who prayed: I want to want to love you.
I’m guessing that’s a prayer we can each offer.