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How can I learn to love God more fully? – Part I of II

January 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Loving God

Q: Dear Father John, I feel confused. I want to keep growing in my love for God. I want to learn to love him “with all my heart, soul, Mary Margaretmind, and strength,” just as he commands us to do. But I don’t know what that means. Can you help me?

A: I will try, but it will take more than one post to do so.

First of all, allow yourself to feel true interior joy, and even relief, at the simple fact that your desire to love God more fully is so fresh, intense, and real. That desire is the most precious gift that God can give to a human heart, because friendship with Jesus Christ – the substance of our love for God – is the only path to the lasting fulfillment that every person yearns for. God is already hard at work in your soul if you are feeling that desire so intensely. You can be sure of that. You can rejoice in that. You can smile at that. In fact, you are experiencing something that Our Lady also experienced, as the Preface of the Mass for Advent puts it: “…the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling.” Your longing to love God more fully is in itself a movement of a very deep love for him, one that gives him immense pleasure.

What’s on the Lord’s Mind?

Now, what exactly was Jesus trying to tell us when he commanded us: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind…”  (Luke 10:27)? This, according to our Lord, is the first and greatest commandment, which overflows into the second most important commandment, “you shall… love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

We have two possible interpretations for this verse. First, Jesus may have simply been using many terms to say one thing: love God totally! Second, Jesus may have been consciously referring to the different powers of the soul when he lists those four modes of love for God: heart, being (or soul), strength, and mind. The two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. To love God totally means to love him with every fiber of one’s being. It means integrating every sector of one’s life into a true friendship with Jesus Christ.

Divide and Conquer?

The self-help industry tends to divide up the art of living. It promotes “five ways to become happy,” and “seven tricks to get ahead,” and “ten secrets to success.” This is not necessarily a bad thing. Lists like these often contain excellent advice. And in the face of the complexity of real life, they provide clarity, order, and understanding. In fact, the Ten Commandments themselves follow a similar structure.

Yet, in the Christian tradition, the Ten Commandments have always been seen as guidelines that point out the bare minimum requirements for staying on the path to happiness. The essence of happiness can never consist in fulfilling a list of do’s and don’ts. Jesus knows this. And so, without erasing the lists, he brings us to a deeper level, to a more unified vision. Love is the essence of happiness: loving God totally, with all the powers of human nature, and expressing that love through concrete decisions in daily life, through treating others (God’s children, created in God’s image and likeness) with the same concern and pro-activity that marks every person’s spontaneous attitude towards themselves.

Four Arenas of Spiritual Growth

Yet, Jesus chooses to express this total love for God by referring to four separate arenas, so to speak, in which that love can be developed and grown and shown. This was no mistake. The four terms Jesus uses were also used in the Old Testament; they formed part of God’s original revelation to Israel (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus reiterates them. And so, surely they mean something. To penetrate this meaning will open up new possibilities in any Christian’s life, because it will show concrete ways to channel the deep desire of every Christian heart to love God more fully.

I would like to take some time to examine each of the four arenas of love. And I will do that in the next post. For now, I want to leave you with Pope Benedict XVI’s own description of the totality of a mature Christian’s love for God. He offers it in the context of describing the implications of our faith in Jesus, and his expression seems to brim over with joy, energy, and optimism, which is how all of us should approach the great adventure of growing in God’s love:

Faith in the Lord is not something that affects only our minds, the realm of intellectual knowledge; rather, it is a change involving the whole of our existence: our feelings, heart, mind, will, body, emotions and human relationships. With faith, everything changes in us and for us, and it reveals clearly our future destiny, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of our lives, the joy of being pilgrims en route to our heavenly homeland.
(Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, 17 October 2012)

In our next post on this topic, we will discuss the first arena of love that Jesus points out which is the “heart”.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently resides in his Order’s General Directorate in Rome, where he is continuing his writing apostolate. His blog contains questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. His online retreats are available at www.RCSpirituality.org.

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  • MarytheDefender

    I love this post! Thank you so much Father and thank you to the questioner! What a wonderfully comforting message! 
    “That desire is the most precious gift that God can give to a human heart, because friendship with Jesus Christ – the substance of our love for God – is the only path to the lasting fulfillment that every person yearns for. God is already hard at work in your soul if you are feeling that desire so intensely.” ”Your longing to love God more fully is in itself a movement of a very deep love for him, one that gives him immense pleasure.” I was so humbled and grateful to read these words! Thanks You Lord Jesus! I love You! I could never thank You enough! 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FDSIWMZEY3TFK6YBCJ7I54QPVA Ellonce

    To love God more perfectly, or as He would have me to love Him, and to give my life more fully to God has been my prayer for some years.
    I look forward to reading more on this topic!
    Articles like this one are what set RCSpiritualDirection above other Catholic blogs – Thank you for everything you do to bring these articles to us.

  • JoFlemings

    I want to echo what Father has posted here with something from my own personal life with Christ. Many years ago, I was reading the in the Bible about King David, described as a ‘man after God’s own heart’. And I went to the Lord in prayer and told Him I wanted to be a person after His own heart- to love Him and to please Him in a way that would be described in that same way- and when you read the Bible about David and his psalms, you can kind of tell how David knew and loved the Lord, and how much God loved him as well. I distinctly remember the impression coming to me in the course of my interior dialogue with the Lord on this, that in the desiring to be one after God’s own heart, the reality was being accomplished.
    I very much appreciate the way Father has explained that grace here, because I can definitely say that I learn more and more about love daily and I have so far to go before I think I can even say I have begun to love God, but it is very encouraging to know how much our inclination toward Him means to Him, even though it has its source in Him! 
    I think of how my 3 yr. old, when she is happy with life or anything or me, in particular, will come to me and hug me and say, “Mom, I love you!”- and I think to myself- yes, in this moment until I tell you, ‘no’ about the next thing, then we will see how you feel….but it never really diminishes my joy or delight in the moment when the lovely little girl face beams up at me and a positive emotion overflows from her heart into my soul. 

    And I think Father John is uniquely gifted to give this particular message to us, and to also continue to reinforce what he shares so well about how much God loves us. :o)

  • BeckitaMaria

    Amen.  Alleluia!  Thanks be to God you are a gifted teacher, Fr. John.  When I read and/or listen to your thoughts, guidance and exhortations I am at once uplifted and affirmed while at the same time challenged to grow in holiness.  Amen. Alleluia!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MHKUO76HUSOIXQJOWNX2P47QWU A

    I am grateful for this post and look forward to the additional installments. I am also finding the book “The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ” by St. Alphonsus Liguori a new translation by Peter Heinegg – helpful to me in this area. Thank you for taking the time to answer this question so thoroughly.

  • http://clinmarjo.blogspot.com/ Maryellen Jones

    I’m so grateful for this question. I’ve wondered all my life about how to do that. Father John explains these things so well. I’m looking forward to the follow-up  posts covering how to love God with my whole self, my whole mind and my whole heart.  What a wonder site for growth in the spiritual life.

    I truly appreciate the comments that others share here about their lived experiences in relationship with God. 

  • mariamgal

    The one thing that has helped me the most in growing in the love of God in my heart, in my mind, in my soul, in my whole being, and in my life is to receive Jesus in Holy Communion every day and to spend time in Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The Mass is the center of the Catholic life, because it brings to us the Word of God and God Himself, that we can listen to Him, praise Him, adore Him, receive Him, thank Him, and be united to Him!  Being present to the Eucharist is a life changing experience and a sure way to grow in the love, service, and obedience to the will of God.  +

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    God bless you for asking this question. It is what goes on in my mind time after time as the “sand in the  Hourglass” trickles down . Thank you, Father for revealing  some ways I never knew are leading me to love God more and it is is always His Grace which is at work. He sure anticipates all our needs and moves in with His Grace, even when we remain oblivious to His moves. I look forward to Part II

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