It never ceases to amaze me the gifts and talents of the fantastic people with whom I work here at the Diocesan Center. One woman volunteers her time as a trainer for Susquehanna Service Dogs. She trains dogs to work with people with disabilities. Each dog is individually trained for the specific needs of his or her future owner. It is unbelievable to meet a mere pup who is basically house trained and watch him or her grow into a dog that is totally centered on his owner. Yes, in the beginning, the young dog in training is totally focused on the individual who is carrying a bag of treats. But, as they grow, their training becomes more intense and specific. As they grow, these dogs are focused on one thing only: helping their owner. Nothing gets in the way of their duty. NOTHING!
I could not help but think about this when I came across a blog entitled, “How to Please God.” Henry Karlson, its author, writes, “It is not, however, the fear of God which best motivates us, rather, it is the love of God, and keeping God in front of us, in our mind’s eye, with the lens of love is far better for us than merely fearing God’s wrath for our sins. Far greater than fear, love will motivate us to seek after and follow God wherever he should lead us; with love, we will sacrifice ourselves for our beloved, Christ, and then find ourselves restored in his resurrection, greater than we would be if we tried to hold on to ourselves and preserve ourselves in the form we exist apart from such self-sacrificial love. … At the heart of love is this giving over of the self to the beloved, and so to remember God and keep him before us, is to keep before us our beloved with the passionate embrace of love that will bring us to him.1
Before I begin writing about idols that we find in our society and in our hearts, we need to know, as well as own in the core of our being, that essentially, we have been created out of love by God for love! Nothing, absolutely nothing, should come before that love relationship. But, you might be thinking, “How does a Catholic Christian put God first and respond to his love?” To answer that question, I came across a blog by Leisa Anslinger, an author for Our Sunday Visitor, who wrote the Ten Steps about putting God first. These steps are Leisa’s; the explanations are mine.
Begin with a reality check – The journey to own God’s love begins with a personal inventory. How have we responded to God’s love? Are we going through the motions, or do we truly have our heart in the right place? Do we hunger after an ever-deepening relationship with Him? If not, why not? We are all called to ponder these questions.
Pay Attention – God lavishly pours out his love to us, often in tiny things. Are we aware of His “whispers” in the humdrum of our life? If we are truly blind to His bounteous gifts, then pray for the gift of a heightened awareness. If only we would open our hearts to these gentle “love pokes,” God will make his presence known to us!
Give Out of Love – This title reminds me of 1 John 4:20 which says, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.’” This requires action not spawned by duty but a heart that is willing to be poured out for another. This is indeed love in action. In addition, when we serve others by pouring ourselves out, we mimic the union of the Trinity and heaven comes to earth!
Pray – I was recently asked by a young woman, “How does one pray?” I responded to her, “How do you hang with your best friend?” She said, “Spend time with her, talk to her, and listen to her as well.” I responded, “Prayer strengthens a relationship with God. Do the same thing!” Yes, it’s that simple!
I went on to explain to my young friend that there are two kinds of prayer in which one can participate: occupational prayer and spousal prayer. Occupational prayer is prayer that is said while you are doing something else. Your attention is not totally focused on God, but you are indeed praying. It’s prayer that we say during the course of our day. Spousal prayer is time spent, at least 20 minutes every day, talking and listening to God; in other words, time spent being wrapped in God’s love, as individuals deeply in love with each other.
Focus Time, Attention and Activity – God created us as embodied spirits. What we do with our bodies affects our focus and attention to God. Our actions also reveal who we truly are. When we are committed to deepening our love relationship with God, our actions, our words, the way we treat others, even the way we respect our planet all change. We begin to see Him in everything and everyone. It is as if we are seeing with new eyes, hearing with new ears and speaking with a new voice. This transformation leads to a deep and never ending hope that leads to joy.
So think of the five above as five tiny pieces of kibble that my co-worker uses to train her dogs. With each piece, her dog’s behavior changes so it can become a dog that serves. Now, I am not calling any one of you a puppy. But, by faithfully practicing the five items above and the ones that will appear in my next article, your heart and your being will serve only the One who created you! NOTHING will get in the way of that service!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness