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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What Does God Want for Me?

Robert Barron - What Does God Want for Me?

Robert Barron - What Does God Want for Me?
TOPICS: God's will

Peace be with you. Friends, we’ve come now to the sixth Sunday of Easter, and boy, do we have magnificent readings for today. I'm going to focus on the first reading and the Gospel. First reading from that First Letter of John. Might I recommend, during this Easter season, take the time to read the whole thing. It's quite short. You can do it in one sitting. But the whole spiritual life opens up in that letter. And then our Gospel is from that section of John's Gospel that I referenced last week, the Farewell Discourse, chapters 14 through 17 of John. Another place to look for the great truths of the Christian spiritual life. As I say, it's kind of an embarrassment of riches in these readings. I'm going to focus just on three fundamental spiritual truths that emerge from these readings.

Here's the first one and maybe the most important, because it has to do with the very nature and being of God. Listen. "Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love". The scholars look for what they call sometimes "the canon within the canon". That means, within the canon of Scripture, can we find the interpretive key, the interpretive lens? Well, to my mind, this would be a candidate for the canon within the canon. What are the Scriptures finally all about? This claim that God is love.

Now, almost every other religion or religious philosophy will say that God loves or that love is one of God's attributes. They all say that. But Christianity is unique in this claim that love is not something God does from time to time, not one option among many. Love is what God is. Now, I know this is maybe a bit of a cliche, because I would’ve seen this on posters growing up. But it's true. God is not so much a noun as a verb. Think of even St. Thomas Aquinas, who refers to God not so much as "en summum", that's Latin for highest being. In fact, Thomas says God is not a being; rather he calls God "ipsum esse". "Esse" means to be in Latin. It's a verb. God is to be itself. Well, push it even further, and Thomas would have gone this way too: the even deeper name of God is to love. God is to love, a verb rather than a noun. Love is the very to be of God.

Now, you know what else follows from that everybody? The highest doctrine within Christianity, which is the Trinity. And you say, "What does the Trinity have to do with this claim"? Well, everything. If God is love, and love is not just an attribute, God is love, then there must be, within the unity of God, a Lover, a Beloved, and their shared Love. We call the Lover the Father, the Beloved the Son, the shared Love the Holy Spirit. The highest doctrine within Christianity, the most distinctive doctrine, follows directly from this claim that love is what God is. And therefore it's true: whoever is without love does not know God. I can know God in some abstract philosophical way I suppose. I can say true things about God. But to know God, and in the Bible to know means a kind of intimate connection, I can't know God unless I enter into the dynamics of love, because that's what God is.

Something else here. Because love is the very being of God, God does not fall in and out of love. And see, I know that's our experience of everyone we've ever known in the world. Even the best people will love sometimes or most of the time, but then they'll fall out of love. They'll fall into self-regard. They'll fall into cruelty or hatred or whatever. But see, if God is love, that's all he knows how to do. He doesn't fall in and out of love. He doesn't change his mind. I love you, but not you. No, it's always God, that's all he is. He's like, what did Jesus say, the sun that shines on the good and bad alike. He's the rain, that means the refreshing rain that falls on the just and the unjust alike. That's all he is. It's all he knows. It's all he does is love. Boy, once you get that, I think your whole life, your whole spiritual vision changes. Love is what God is.

Now, here's the second great truth, and it follows from the first one. I'll call it the primacy of grace. The primacy of grace. The technical term here is sometimes the love of predilection. "Dilectio", love; predilection, that the love of God always comes first. You know, one of the clearest signs that the spiritual life has become dysfunctional is we forget this principle, and we start playing the game of "Well, if I impress God enough, maybe he'll love me. If I perform morally or intellectually or whatever sufficiently, then God will love me". No, no; see, that puts you spiritually in the driver's seat. You're in charge of the relationship. You're making God do things. You see, that can sound kind of pious, like "Oh, I'll try to impress God".

But in fact, you're in charge of that relationship. No, no; the great biblical truth is God's love always comes first. It comes as a grace, "gratia", like free gift. That's how God's love comes. Listen now to this from 1 John: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins". Let that sink into your heart, and again, your life will change. It's not primarily a game of that we've loved God sufficiently. No, no; that God loved us and sent his Son as expiation. Almost every other religion in the world will intuit that there's something the matter with us, sin or dysfunction or injustice or suffering. There's something the matter with us. And they all lay out some path that we should follow, some program that we should follow, ethical or spiritual etc. Okay, as far as it goes. But that's not biblical religion. That's not biblical religion.

As I've often said, the Bible is not the story of our quest for God. It's the story of God's relentless quest for us. It's not the story of how can we sufficiently impress God, but rather God comes after us like the hound of heaven. He sent his Son as expiation for our sins. He's not waiting for us to get our act together. No, he sent his Son proactively to perform expiation for our sins. And then this line, of course from the Lord Jesus himself. And I remember when I first, gosh, as a young man, drew out the implications of this, it changed everything. Jesus says, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you". See, if it's the other way around, again, I’m in charge. "Oh, I choose Jesus". So, "I am making my choice". Well, all right. But that's not what really matters. "It's not you who chose me. It's I who chose you".

Remember I mentioned last week: the spiritual life is allowing Christ to live his life in you. Yeah, he chose us, and he wants to live his life in us, love of predilection, grace comes first. That's such a key principle. I've always loved the image of Jesus getting into Peter's boat. Remember that scene in the Gospel where he doesn't ask permission, he doesn't say, "Hey can I...hey, Peter, would you mind if I got in"? No, he just gets in the boat and begins giving commands. Well, think of that boat as your soul. That's you. And Jesus? He gets in. "I've chosen you, and now I'm going to live my life in you, and now follow. Follow the promptings that I give you".

That's the spiritual life. That's the spiritual life. Okay? Third principle. And it's kind of a balancing principle in a way, if you've been following me so far. Once we know that God is love, once we know that God loves us with a love of predilection, that his love comes first, he's chosen us, now we respond with an answering and imitating love. See, the danger is, if you follow those first two principles, you say, "Okay, I think I got that. So Christianity is just complete quietism. God is love. I'll let him do his thing and just get in my boat, and I just surrender to him". Well, not quite. Is God's love unconditional? Yeah. That's what I've been talking about. He is love, and he loves us with a love of predilection, unconditionally. However, however, within the Gospel, you also find a kind of conditional love. Now, what am I talking about? Well, listen from our Gospel for today: "You are my friends if you do what I command you".

You see that little word, if, that signals the conditional, right? "You are my friends if you do what I command you". And this: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends". Is there a conditional quality? Yes, because once he's loved us, he now invites us to love him in an answering way. Now enter into the dynamics of the divine love. We don't just sit back quietistically, but now we participate in God's love. Remember from the book of Revelation, when the Lord says, "If you're lukewarm, I shall vomit you out of my mouth". He doesn't want lukewarm quietism. He wants now active engagement with his love, that we respond, that we respond. This is the whole moral life and the whole ethical life and the whole spiritual life is respond now to the commands of the Lord.

I'll tell you a quick little story here. This is many years ago, when my great spiritual hero, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, invited me to do work in evangelization. And as part of that, he said, "I'd like you to come and live at my house so we could talk about this together". Well, it was such a surprise. I mean, I was living at the seminary at the time. It was this extraordinary grace that he invited me to live at his house. Now, it would have been incredibly presumptuous of me at some point to say, "Oh, I'm just going to go get a key to the cardinal's house, and I'm moving in". Well, no, I couldn't do that. I had to wait for him to invite me, as a grace, to live in his house. But suppose I moved into his house, he gave me a key, and now I'm living in that house, and the first weekend, I decide, "It's time to have a party. Let's bring a keg in, have my friends over, let's play some loud music".

Well, no, I would be living in a way completely inappropriate for that house. Or if I wasn't following the kind of rules of the house and dressing in a t-shirt and shorts at the table. No, no; once I was in the house by a sheer act of grace, now I learn to live in response to that grace. And there's the spiritual life everybody. You know? It's not that I've loved him. He loved me first; yes, he got in my boat. But now I live in accordance with the demands of his love. That's the principle. Here's just a last thing as I close. What's the upshot of all of this? That God is love, his love comes first, that we're called to cooperate with his love. What's the upshot of all of it?

Listen to this from the Gospel: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete". That's the spiritual life everybody. The surest sign that someone is not living the spiritual life correctly is this sort of cramped and deeply unhappy attitude. That's the sign that you don't have the Spirit in you. The flag of the Holy Spirit is joy. That's why he's come. If we're missing that, we're missing the entire program. If you're living your spiritual life and you say, "Well, I've got all this together, and my ethical life, and my liturgical life, and my moral life," but I'm this kind of crabby, unhappy, miserable person, well then I'm missing the whole point. "I've come that you might have joy and that your joy might be complete".

I've always loved this from St. Thomas Aquinas. Someone asked him one time, "What does God do all day"? His answer was, "He enjoys himself", which is a great answer. Of course he does. God rests in his own goodness. Well, that's the point. He wants to share that with us. That's why he loved us by a love of predilection. That's why he graced us. That's why he got into our boat. So, love finally equals joy. You want a canon within the canon? You want a summary of the Christian spiritual life? That's it. And could there possibly be a more important message? I don't think so. So spend some time, everybody, with the First Letter of John, and continue spending time with that wonderful Farewell Discourse from the Gospel of John. And God bless you.
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