…Father John Bartunek answers the following question:
Dear Father John, I try to love God above everything and everyone else, but I’m not sure how. I’m not even sure that I am doing that. Can you help?
Editor’s Note: In part I, we looked at why someone would even think about this question and the precise totality of love. Today we will: talk about going beyond self-help lists, introduce the four arenas of love, and savor the promise.
Beyond Self-Help Lists
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 real life’s real complexity, they provide a certain degree of clarity, order, and understanding. 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 goes beyond the bare minimum; it goes deeper. Full spiritual maturity can never consist in mechanically fulfilling a list of dos and don’ts. Jesus knows this. And so, without completely erasing the lists, he brings us to the deeper level, to a more unified vision.
Authentic love is the essence of happiness: loving God totally, with all the powers of our 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 proactivity that marks every person’s spontaneous attitude toward oneself.
Four Arenas of Love
Jesus chooses to describe 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. Three of the four terms Jesus uses were also used in the Old Testament; they formed part of God’s original revelation to Israel (see 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 every Christian’s deep desire to love God more fully.
[Later, we] will examine in depth each of these four arenas of love, showing how each of the four activates different powers built into human nature. Only by growing harmoniously in all four areas can we truly allow God’s grace to transform every corner of our lives, gradually discovering the abundant life that Jesus identified as the goal of his life’s mission: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Although we will examine each sector separately, it’s important to keep in mind that they are all connected. What happens in the emotions, for example, reverberates in the mind and the heart, and the direction of our heart affects our will and our emotions, and so on. The human person is a unified whole, even though our human nature does indeed have various powers and faculties.
Savoring the Promise
But before branching into the distinctions between heart, soul, mind, and strength, we should pause and take some time to savor the promise hidden inside this first commandment–the promise that God’s grace is working hard to bring us not merely to an earthly happiness that comes from following five secret tips, but rather to the full, glorious, and everlasting satisfaction of spiritual maturity. Here’s how Pope Benedict XVI portrayed that maturity in the context of describing the implications of our faith in Jesus. Notice how 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.1
1 Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, October 17, 2012.
Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art for this post asking “How do I love God Above All (Part II of II)?”: Les tables de la Loi [The Tablets of the Law], Stained Glass of a Synagogue, end of the 19th century, Alsace, Alsacian Museum of Strasbourg, CC, Wikimedia Commons. Pope Benedict XVI, file copy. Feature Image Art: Moïse reçoit les 10 commandements (Moses receives the 10 Commandments), Jean Weyh, 1886 [Rh-67 own work 2010], CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.