ESUS HAS A BURNING, PASSIONATE LOVE FOR US. The love of God is much greater than we can ever comprehend or even imagine. We sometimes try to express his love for us by using human images that move us, like the love of a mother for her newborn baby. A mother's love is so caring, tender and filled with compassion, but even this is insufficient to express the richness and depth of God's love for us. God's love cannot be reduced to human terms. As he tells us through the prophet Isaiah:
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.1
When we sin, we reject this precious love. Jesus tells us our sin is based on our refusal to believe in him. However, even in our rejection of him Jesus does not abandon us. He sends us the Holy Spirit to convince us of the truth concerning sin. During the days of Noah, God saw the great sinfulness of the people and expressed his regret at having created humankind. This regret echoes down through the ages to our own day, as the Holy Spirit convinces us of our own refusal to believe in the beloved Son whom the Father sent into the world to be the sacrifice who washes away our sin, destroys our death and brings us to eternal life.
There are many distractions in our world that try to prevent us from becoming aware of the beautiful presence of God. There is a busy-ness to life today that keeps us distracted from God's loving kindness and from caring for each other. And, as strange as it might seem, it even alienates us from ourselves. So, when we try to pray we already have formidable adversaries lined up against us: the devil, the fallen world, and our flesh. Our old enemy the devil uses the fallen world around us to lure our fallen nature away from God.
Temptation is tricky. Sometimes it is pretty obvious, but often the enemy is more subtle, giving his darts a twist that can even make the darkest sin appear quite spiritual. We are easily deceived, and once we are hoodwinked, it is very difficult to get free. Evil has its own logic system which, although fundamentally flawed, looks good within itself. The result can be absolute confidence in something that seems right to us but is nevertheless erroneous.
Examples of this are all around us. Consider people who are pro-abortion. Probably very few of them consider abortion as killing a human being. Concern for protecting the woman from oppression blinds them to the rights of the child who, as a person created by God, has a right to life that supersedes the mother's right to choose whether she wishes to carry the child to term. Excepting their erroneous premise, however, their logic makes sense to them. Women are oppressed, and some do suffer greatly from the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy. Tragically, the flaw in their logic is fatal in that it leads them to kill a human being — a morally reprehensible act.
Another example of subtle temptation that influences a broad spectrum of our behaviour is in the area of righteousness. We all have a need to be right with God. The way we try to attain this rightness has a great impact upon our character and how we treat others. If we think ourselves to be basically good people, perhaps with a few minor flaws, who need a little bit of redemption but not too much, we will be highly scandalized by those who do not live up to our expectations. Judgemental attitudes towards others tend to shore up our belief in our basic goodness (self-righteousness), but this also predisposes us to fear regarding the things we take most seriously. If we are passionate about the Church, we may be fearful that the leaders of the Church are somehow on the wrong track, or that the faithful are not faithful. Then, instead of loving those over us in the Lord as we are bound to, we become mistrustful and a source of division. There is no telling how far down this road sinful pride will take us, but wherever it goes will not be good.
We belong to Christ
On the other hand, if we accept the words of Jesus we will realize that we do not protect the Church. She is the Body of Christ; she protects us. The holiness of the Church is guaranteed by Jesus himself, who will never let the gates of hell prevail against her. She is a safe home for us, a holy Church who embraces sinners to herself. By humbling ourselves before God and resisting the devil's tactics, we are drawn close to God. 2
As sinners gathered into the bosom of the Church, we are given the gift of prayer which empowers us to dwell in Christ. It is always possible to pray. Regardless of our circumstances or emotional state the Holy Spirit moves within us, calling us to turn to Jesus.3 Prayer is absolutely essential to our Christian life. Without prayer we cannot hope to live as God wants us to, working out the Father's plan of salvation for our lives. Our prayer is so entwined with our actions that the two become inseparable in the mature Christian.
Sometimes, if we are angry, upset, lonely or fearful, we might feel that we cannot pray. This is so wrong. We are experiencing our deep need for prayer. At these times the prayer of forgiveness can be very effective at restoring us to peace, and humble surrender to the peace of Jesus will change us from fearful, powerless creatures into authentic witnesses of Jesus' powerful love.
How do we do this? We need to somehow quiet ourselves in Jesus' loving presence and listen to his voice. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world bids us draw close to him. The Holy Spirit doesn't abandon us in our weakness, but brings us before the cross of Jesus that we might experience forgiveness and God's great thirst for us.
However, our outer man finds the silence of God and the cross uncomfortable, and the flesh wars against the spirit. But the Spirit also wars against the flesh! Pride is dealt a death blow as the Holy Spirit convinces us of the wrong of our own sin, our sin which crucified our great God and saviour Jesus Christ.
Where we deserve only condemnation, we are dealt mercy. At the moment when the true misery of our condition is laid bare, we hear the voice of Jesus expressing the deep thirst with which God longs for us to be united to him. Running to the cross, the full, rich mercy of God embraces us, and we are at peace.