It does not occur to us the majority of the time how great the Love of God is. We know that it is unfathomable–measured, as it is, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ–but no kind of knowledge can compare with experience, with a real encounter with the Holy Spirit of Love. Such experiences are not within our power to create, nor can we in any way force God to give them to us. They are pure gift, that is to say, they are grace. They are foreshadowings of what is to come, tiny tastes of heaven, that God gives–according to His own choosing–to souls open to His Love.
I had such an experience this past thursday–second hand, so to speak. During our community holy hour at the seminary, a priest read us a letter that he had received from a man who had had such an experience first hand. The man had a relative (an uncle) who had been in obstinant denial of God for many years. This uncle was dying of cancer, and the man was trying his best to talk to him about Christ, and to get him to let a priest come to him. Eventually, after it was clear that the uncle would die soon, the man came with a priest to the hospital room while the uncle was sleeping. The priest was a very holy priest. As the man described, this priest gently took the uncle’s hand, waking him up, and spoke to him of God’s Love. The priest told him, gently stroking his forehead, that he would die soon, but that he had nothing to fear because God loves him, and would receive him and forgive him all of his sins. The man said that he was amazed by the way which the priest spoke and looked at his uncle. It was with a love that he had not seen before. And this love totally disarmed the dying man, who, without needing any persuasion, gave his confession to the priest–his first confession in thirty years.
The sight of the Love of God in this priest, and the sight of this Love’s power, disarmed the man as well. The priest was also disarmed–on the ride home, he spoke to himself, almost in a contemplative trance, fixed as he was upon the Love of God, saying, “How can I ever stand before God, when He does all the work and I get all the credit? How can I ever thank Him for His Love?”
So there I was, listening to this story in the words of the man who experienced it, and was myself disarmed. The Love of God disarmed me, welling up in my heart a spring of praise and thanksgiving for– For the greatness of His Love…. For the glorious calling of the priesthood, which he has given to me…. For His zeal for the salvation of each and every sinner, even one who has sinned as I have sinned…. For His power manifest everywhere…. For His Glory, beyond imagination.