Heroic Love

Oh what a privilege it is to be a stubby pencil in the powerful hand of the Awesome God, to speak of the wonders of His love and to proclaim with joy the work He does in us, His beautiful children.

Several years ago I could never have said that. I was much too afraid of God's wrath and judgment.

What peace and joy it is to surrender to the knowledge and truth that God is our beloved friend.

Let me begin by telling you that there is an enormous difference between knowing about God and knowing Him. At 53 years old, I am just beginning to understand the powerful personal love God has for me - and for all of us.

Most of my life I thought God was waiting at the finish line of my life with His book of rules and a very long list of my failings. Knowing my own selfish human nature I dreaded living, and I feared dying.

Every Hail Mary I uttered reminded me that I would need her help at the "hour of our death Amen."

I tried to avoid every sin I could. I was scrupulous in many ways, and during childhood I even tried imagining how I would stand up to the fires of hell. I would turn off all the cold water in my tub so I could practice getting used to the heat! No laughing, please. I am sharing the truth with you.

Then, I moved into adulthood and began to experience true suffering.

We all want the mountaintop experiences - those moments when everything feels right and we are filled with happiness and wonder and excitement. We can see the future for miles, and everything looks so bright and amazing. And we have explosions and epiphanies and harmonious friendships and ... Well, actually, that sounds more like heaven, and then I remembered we are on earth, and earth is a valley of tears. But what I have learned in that valley is much more profound.

Not much grows on top of the mountain, and yet here in the valley of tears is the fertile soil. Our tears water our toil and bring forth spring and abundant fruit.

Here, too, in the valley, we are surrounded by the mountain of God; for there He is, a constant reminder of His steadfast fidelity, enormous strength, and supreme protection.

The more I experienced God's limitless love - love without end, love never counting the cost - the more I desired it.

My husband has a saying: "Me and Jesus, we be mates."

That was how I was beginning to feel. Then, I would invariably stumble upon the scriptures that commanded us to love others as Christ loves us, and I would feel doomed all over again.

I wanted to love the God of scriptures, the Miracle Worker, the Healer, the Patient Listener, the Non-Judger, the Cross Bearer, the Resurrected King. All those notions of Christ moved me and inspired me and made me long for the Kingdom of God. I wanted to go to Heaven, but the huge stumbling block, for me, was always earth and the people on it.

I would argue in my head at Mass when the readings would contradict my thoughts. "If you say you love God, but hate your neighbor, you are a liar; the truth is not in you." And I would say to the Lord, "Then why, Jesus, do you make some people so difficult to love?"

I declared to the Lord that I would gladly climb upon that cross with Him and suffer, and yet I did not know how to love people in that same way.

Recently, Jesus reminded me that a cross has two beams.

One beam goes to Heaven, the other to earth, to the people of God.

Climbing upon that first beam was fine, but submitting to the horizontal one was terrifying. Quite frankly, I did not know how to do it, nor was I too keen to do so. That beam makes you truly immobile. A sitting duck. With your arms pinned down to that beam, you cannot even ward off a blow.

But Jesus, in His tender compassion and pity, places us upon those two crossed beams and showers us with His merciful rays.

And it was there, upon the cross of contradiction, that I finally shouted out, "Oh death, where is thy victory. Oh grave where is thy sting!"

The cross is where we find heroic love, a love that casts out all fear. Jesus knew that for us to give love we must first be loved, and that is why He climbed on that cross first.

Unlimited and absolute love - we all desire it. Thus, only in Him are we able to love without limit, for it is He who is loving in and through us.

Heroic love has delivered me from fear of living and fear of dying.

Joley Billa is a lay evangelist for Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy.

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