This conversation happened several years ago, and I am still amazed by what it set in motion. The thing I recall most distinctly about it was my initial skepticism. It was my first meeting with any spiritual director, and my first with the person, Father Paul Scaglione, who would become my spiritual director and friend. In time, I’ll share more about what brought me to this conversation and to a relationship with a Jesuit-trained Roman Catholic priest who my wife Debbie credits with saving my life, but today I want to focus on just one aspect of that first conversation.
We talked for more than an hour that first time. Mostly I talked. Mostly he listened. Toward the end of the conversation, however, he had something to say. He said he wanted me to hear this. He paused, allowing the silence to gather in the room before he spoke. His words rolled over me: “What God wants for you is for you to be completely enfolded in God’s love. God wants you to know and feel his love. That’s God’s will for you. That’s God’s entire expectation of you.”
I wasn’t being glib when I answered: “Well, Father Paul, I’m pretty sure that’s not the only expectation of my Board of Trustees.”
He smiled gently and said it again: “But that is what God wants for you.”
It took me years to realize not just that he was right, but that the entire calling of Jesus Christ is toward this end: To allow ourselves to be loved by God, to allow the love of God to wash over us, to allow the love of God to become the center of gravity in our lives, to allow the love of God to define who we are and what we think of ourselves, to allow the love of God to shape all our relationships with every other person and all of God’s creation.
Everything else that Christian faith teaches is a footnote to this central reality. Everything else we learn from the Bible is an elaboration on this theme.
This is the life for which we were created. This is the life for which we are intended. This is the life to which we are called. This is God’s will for our lives.
This is why fishermen dropped their nets and followed Jesus. This is why a Jewish rebel against the Roman Empire (Simon the Zealot) set aside his revolutionary violence, why a collaborator with Roman tyranny (Matthew) abandoned his lucrative tax office skinning his own people, and why both, previously sworn enemies, became disciples.
This is why Saul became Paul, why martyrs let themselves be eaten by lions rather than retaliate against others. This is why saints devoted their lives to prayer and silence and acts of mercy, and gave away everything they possessed so that nothing might distract them from God alone.
This is why we gather together in congregations to pray, why we are present in hospital rooms with the sick and dying, why we listen to those who suffer in body and mind, why we do not park our brains at the door of the sanctuary or our souls outside our offices and boardrooms, why we work hard to make sure that children are safe and loved and all people are respected and treated with compassion, and why we try very hard not to give up on people who drive us nuts, or disappoint us, or hurt us, or make us angry.
The whole purpose and meaning of life is to know and experience and embody the love of God. In this confidence we can rest, allowing this love to wash over us like the waters of baptism.
Prayer: “Gracious God: May we track the love you pour over us like watery footprints all over our neighborhoods. Amen.”