Priest Says at Retreat to Pray “God Loves Me.”
A lady in a different forum I participate in told me that a priest at a retreat she attended recently told them several times to pray that “God loves me.” She asked me to comment on this prayer. I do not know the full context of what this priest was trying to do so I will approach it from two directions.
First, giving the benefit of the doubt to the priest. If the retreat were of a special type, like for people who feel victimized. In light of their situation, they may have a difficult time believing that God loves them. They may be asking “If God loves me, how can He allow this or that to happen to me?” If we were talking about a situation like this, then the prayer could be fine. I still see problems, but I will let those go. The purpose would be to have the person say the prayer like a mantra (part of my problem with it) and keep saying it until they believe it. It is like psychological arm-twisting (another problem).
There are better techniques that can be employed in prayer then this. One is called mortification. In fact, I will be giving a retreat on this topic in two weeks. Actually the topic is Suffering, A means to Salvation. I will spend the first talk talking about what is suffering. The second talk is on how God uses suffering to the good of our salvation. The third talk is on how we take suffering, cooperate with God and embrace salvation (a process called mortification). Sorry most of you will not be able to be there for it, but I do accept invites (A shameless advertisement).
Now I must turn to a negative approach to the question. I have heard of and have personally attended many bad retreats and conferences where modernism is taught. One example was when a parishioner and his adult son went on retreat together. They got up and walked out. Why? The priest was talking about how to know Gods will for you. This is a legitimate pursuit, generally called discernment. But not at this retreat. According to this priest the way to know what God wants you to do is to simply ask yourself what do you really, really, really, really (stressing “really”) want to do, that is God’s will for you. OK. Let us follow that thinking to it logical (illogical) conclusion. I really, really, really, really (And I stress “really”) want to hurt you right now. Is that God’s will? It don’t think so. To make this statement is to not take into account the human condition. We are sinners or more appropriately, we are subject to concupiscence, disordered passions and desires. We are week and vulnerable to our disordered passions and desires. And this priest wants us to judge God’s will according to our feelings? WOW! That is a volatile combination. Now do I not only get to do what I want to do, but I also get to blame it on God.
In light of bad theology (modernism) out there today, I must also approach the question without the benefit of the doubt for the priest. We have all heard it before. God love you. God love you just the way you are. It is true that God love us. It is not true that God loves us just as we are. If that were true, why does He call us to change and become perfect? A better statement would be to say that God loves us in spite of who we are. I am a sinner. God loves me. Out of love He made me. He knows who I am and what I can be. It matters not, if I become what I can, He still loves. But He does not love me because of who I am. I am not who He would have me be. Not yet, but I am working on it. In fact, this might dumbfound some, God loves Satan, the demons, and the human souls that have been damned. God never stopped loving them and he still condemns them to hell. Remember in the end, God sends no one to hell, we send ourselves there. Hell is our choice. Judgment is simply God’s recognition of our choice. He keeps right on loving us.
The reason it is so important for modernism to succeed in this delusion is that if God loves me just the way I am, then I do not have to grow, change or get holy. I can live my life of decadence (hedonism) or mediocrity (the lukewarm I will spill out) and still go to heaven. God cannot send one He loves to hell. It makes life easy. As a priest teaching such garbage, they let you off the hook and you like them for it. “Like them?” People LOVE them for it. People go priest shopping all the time to find one that tells them what they want to hear. Scripture even speaks to this when it talks about students who love to have their ears tickled. People love a feel-good religion that tells them God loves you and you are fine just the way you are. Like the other example, they get to do what they want, and if by some chance God does not like it, they can say “but Father So&So said I was fine.” God will simply look at them and say “But I am not judging Father So&So right now. Scary. But people buy into it and there is no shortage of priest, theologians, bishops, laypeople and even popes who will take advantage of lazy people who do not want to do the work of getting holy. The proper theological term is sloth and it is one of the 7 deadly sins. Deadly means that it will send you to hell.
We note further that to hear that God loves me is an easier message to receive than God is disappointed in me. To tell people to “repent and prepare the way of the Lord” is a difficult message to drive home. It is like chiseling into rock to get people to listen. Tell them God loves them once and they are hooked. It is my practice to speak often of the work we need to do and that we need to love God better. I speak sparingly that God loves you. They know that. I do not need to convince them of it. I mention it not to teach them that God loves them, but to remind them so that they do not loose heart in the never-ending battle we fight to get holy. Or I use it as a way to remind them why the work we need to do is so important, that it is in response to God’s love. A little love talk goes a long way when we are talking about God. Jesus proved this when he said, no greater love is there than for one to lay his life down for a friend and then proved it by going to the cross for us. When I speak of love, the cross is next in the conversation.
Love is sacrifice. Love is not about some warm fuzzy feeling. Love is about personal investment of self in other. While relationships are about give and take, it is less about the take. You want to know if you love someone? Ask yourself what are you willing to give them. This is the degree to which you love them. Love is difficult, because it demands us to give and we are afraid that if we give then we may not have enough for our self, that we may end up depriving ourselves. The degree that one is still willing to give defines the depth of their love. On the flip side, the receiving? We are always ready to receive, that does not define love. However, to turn it around, we can see that to the degree that we desire to receive is the degree that we fail to love. In love, we receive as a response to letting the other love us in return. Love then becomes a mutual investment. This then is part of the problem with the prayer this priest suggested. We are saying God loves us, but do we love Him?
If we think in any way that in prayer we are going to change God or add to God or what ever… we are greatly missing the point of prayer. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. In a prayer of petition, we ask God for something. We so often ask, thinking that God does not know what we need. But He does. Even before we ask, he knows what we need. He even says to keep asking like the widow in scripture who kept pestering the judge to give sentence on her case. He finally gave in to get her to leave him alone. God says to pester Him also. Do we think that He is going to change His mind? NO! Rather we keep asking until we change our minds. We ask and ask and ask and finally we ask “why has God not answered yet?” Then something happens and it becomes apparent that it would not have been good for me or it was not the right time for me. Notice that the change happens in us, not God. It is up to us to come to know His will and then to pray in union with His will. Until then, God says keep trying.
When we pray, there should be time to reflect on God’s love for us. It should be a time of thanksgiving. Giving thanks is an act of submission. We recognize the gift and realize that we are unworthy of the gift. And in humble submission we let Him love us and pour out His grace on us. We know that this is His will for us. That we accept His gifts, His grace, His love. We are happy to receive it. But let us not take advantage of God’s generosity. We must reciprocate and give to Him. Not in the sense of out doing the Jones’ or in the sense that we give and He will give more. We give that it may be a true love, a mutual investment of self in other. To simply have God love me is selfish and separates me from Him. What am I ready to do to love God? Now that is the question and one that will set you off on a quest for holiness that will take you a lifetime to solve. It will bring you many hurts, sorrows and disappointments along the way, but the joy, happiness and fulfillment it brings is so much more.