There once was a boy by the name of Jimmy. He was in the second grade and after learning about baptism in religious ed. he went home to baptize his dog. As soon as he got to his house he went into the kitchen for a large glass of water. He then ran to the backyard to find his dog Spot. Once he had Spot under control he began pouring water over the dog’s head saying, “I baptize you Spot in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” After this he added, “Now you are a human being. Speak to me.” Slowly Spot rose up on his hind legs until he was standing straight up. “Well” Spot said, “I’ve never talked before. Just give me a little time to get used to it. I have a feeling that you and I are going to get along very well.” “But first, let’s talk about this dog food you’re feeding me.”
Now of course, this incident never happened, except in Jimmy’s vivid imagination. It is, however, a good illustration of what did happen to you and me when, in Baptism, God chose to share His own divine life with us. Before Baptism there was an impassable gulf between God and us. We couldn’t possibly enjoy what God enjoys, no more than a dog can enjoy reading a book. We couldn’t possibly communicate adequately with God nor God with us, no more than a dog owner can share his inner most thoughts with his dog. He just won’t understand. For a dog to be able to think and speak and to share his owner’s loves and joys, the dog would have to be raised to the level of a human being. He would have to be given a human nature. For the dog this would be a super nature, a kind of existence above the nature of a dog.
Although Jimmy couldn’t humanize his dog Spot, God could and did divinize you and me. We’re not little gods, we don’t cease to be human but with baptism we are made like God. In Baptism God gives to us a supernatural life, a kind of life above the nature of a human being. In His great love God raises us to His own level. He chooses to share with us His own divine life. He chooses to share his Sanctifying Grace and this grace guides us, strengthens us, and inspires us. And in return God asks for our love. He calls us to love him out of our own free will.
As we just heard in our Gospel, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” This is a very definite command and it can seem a very hard command, maybe even too hard or impossible. How can I love God with all my heart and strength? And if I really loved God with all my heart, being, strength and mind shouldn’t I feel it a little bit, like I feel when I love other people? When love is strong, sometimes just hearing the name of the one we love can make our heart beat faster, it can give a lift to our spirits. But I never catch my heart beating faster at the mention of God’s name, nor do I feel the least bit excited when I think of Him. How can I ever hope to love God with all my heart? When we think this way we’re confusing sentimental love with the pure love of spirit-for-spirit which is the basic nature of our love for God. The love of human for human almost always has an emotional or sentimental basis. It’s a love that we can feel. It’s not necessary, however, that there be any emotional content in our love for God. Real love for God rests in our will, not in our emotions.
Now it’s true that some people, especially the saints, have been able to feel their love for God in an emotional way. It’s a grace and a consolation. St. Philip Neri, for example, at the thought of God would often be seized with such violent palpitations that his whole body would tremble. This was a special grace that God gave to St. Philip yet it wasn’t these violent palpitations that measured the intensity of his love for God. Our love for God as was St. Philip’s is not gauged by feelings and emotions, but by what we stand ready to do for God. True holiness is measured by charity, by how we love God and our neighbor. If in our mind and heart we are genuinely convinced that nothing and nobody are to be preferred to God; if there is nothing that we have, any position we hold, or any one person that we would ever let stand between us and God, then our love for Him is real. Think of Mother Theresa she spent many years loving in spiritual dryness without feeling the consolation of God’s love, yet through His grace she remained faithful and continued to serve God and her neighbor.
Another gauge of our love for God is the extent to which the thought of God dominates our day. If we love God we live for God. This doesn’t mean we’re thinking about God all the time. What it does mean is that always, just below the surface of our mind, is the conviction that what we’re doing, we’re doing for God; our labor, our recreation, our family relationships, our social responsibilities, our whole sum of life is for God. Because even when God is not consciously in our thoughts, if we’ve given Him our day, the moment we wake up, then He’ll be in our hearts and hands as we pursue the tasks of our life.
In today’s Gospel we are like the victim found at the side of the road. His wounds were cleansed with oil and wine while our wounds have been cleansed in the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, and the Holy Eucharist. The victim recuperates at the inn while we recuperate inside the Inn of the Church. And during our life long recuperation, with the grace of God, and we can’t do it without his grace, we learn to love more and more until we reach that perfection of love in Heaven, where we know we will love God with a whole heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and all our mind.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley