This short chapter I’m about to share is from a book called Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe. A few of my friends shared it with me in times when I really needed it, so it’s my turn to share it with you. Every time I re-read it, something new pops out to me. Hopefully this chapter speaks to you too. Here it is below.
PRIMACY OF LOVE
The second principle is also absolutely fundamental: the primacy of love over anything else. St. Teresa of Avila says, “In prayer, what counts is not to think a lot but to love a lot.”
How liberating that is! Sometimes one can’t think, can’t meditate, can’t feel; but one can always love. Instead of worrying and getting discouraged, those who are tired out, tormented by distractions, and incapable of doing mental prayer, can always offer their poverty to our Lord in peaceful trust. If they do that, they are making a magnificent mental prayer. Love is king, and no matter what the circumstances, love always triumphs in the end. “Love draws profit from everything, good and bad alike,” St. Therese of Lisieux liked to say, quoting St. John of the Cross. Love draws profit from feelings and from dryness, from profound reflections and from aridity, from virtue and from sin, and much more besides.
This principle is connected to the first, the primacy of God’s action over ours. Our main task in praying is to love. But in our relationship with God, loving means first of all letting ourselves be loved. This isn’t as easy as it might seem. It means we have to believe in love, and often we find it very easy to doubt it. It also means we have to accept the fact that we are poor.
Often we find it easier to love than to let ourselves be loved. Doing something, giving something, gratifies us and makes us feel useful, but letting ourselves be loved means consenting not to do anything, to be nothing. Our first task in mental prayer, instead of offering or doing anything for God, is to let ourselves be loved by him like very small children. Let God have the joy of loving us. That is difficult, because it means having a rock-solid belief in God’s love for us. It also implies accepting the fact of our own poverty. Here we touch on something absolutely fundamental: there is no true love for God which is not built on a recognition of the absolute priority of God’s love for us; there is no true love for God that has no grasped that, before doing anything at all, we have first to receive. “In this is love,” St. John tells us, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us first” (1 Jn 4:10).
In the relationship with God our first act of love, one that must remain the basis for every act of love for him, is this: to believe that he loves us, and to let ourselves be loved in our poverty, just as we are, quite apart from any merits or virtues we may possess. With this as the grounding of our relationship with God, the relationship is on a sound footing. Otherwise it is distorted by a certain Phariseeism, its center not ultimately occupied by God but by our own selves, our activity, our virtue, or some such thing.
This is a very demanding attitude, since it requires that we shift the center of our existence from ourselves to God and forget about ourselves. But it sets us free. God is not primarily looking for us to do things. We are “unprofitable servants” (Lk. 17:10). “God does not need our works, but is thirsty for our love,” said St. Therese of Lisieux. He asks us first of all to let ourselves be loved, to believe in his love, and that is always possible. Prayer is basically that: to remain in God’s presence and let him love us.
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