Tough Love

By Chris Sparks

In the fundamental meditation about the goal; that is, of choosing love: the soul must love; it has need of loving. The soul must divert the stream of its love, but not into the mud or into a vacuum, but into God. How I rejoice when I reflect on this, for I feel clearly that He Himself is in my heart. Just Jesus alone! I love creatures insofar as they help me to become united with God. I love all people because I see the image of God in them (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 373).

Being docile to God means being hard to the world.

Somewhere along my journey through school, I came across that recurring image in Catholic spirituality. It’s a comment about what forms us, what makes us who we are. If our first loyalty and love is to power, or pleasure, or money, or whatever earthly idol, then we will be docile to those things, doing what they want of us, and hardened or resistant to other influences.

Take the businessman who spends all his time at work, for instance. He’s focused on the power of the almighty dollar, on the prosperity and success of his business. That can seem like a good and noble calling. After all, he employs many people, serves his community through the success of his business, generates value by generating profits, and he’s taking care of his family, even if that care comes at the expense of spending time with them.

So the businessman hardens himself against demands that, in his opinion, get in the way of his good work with his business. He is resistant to changing his schedule to accommodate other goods. He has to work weekends; he has to be always on the road, always pursuing the next deal, the next success, the next round of profits. He hasn’t got time for things that don’t serve that end.

Or consider the person for whom power takes first place. They are focused on their center of power, whether that be a political career, or a business enterprise, or their talent and creativity, or teaching, or what have you. Fixated on power, they do what they feel they need to in order to serve power, to seek and consolidate power. They are hardened to things that aren’t in the visible service of that power.

Instead of these sorts of idolatries, we are summoned as Christians to put God in first place in our lives. That means we become docile to His calls. We attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, if not more frequently. We are faithful to our daily prayer, putting it first in the order of importance of things in our lives. We love our families, our countries, and ourselves in large part because God loves them all, and so we love them in light of God’s love, sharing in His love itself by living life in the Spirit. Our daily work and our use of power in this world becomes subordinated to God, to His will, His demands, His priorities, and we become hardened to things that would seek to detract from that, to redirect our order of priorities.

This is how we exclude sin from our lives — not simply because God commands it, but because it gets in the way of our first priority: our relationship with God, who is Love, Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Being. God is worth every sacrifice. Our relationship with God is worth every sacrifice.

Now I have to make a careful distinction: We are to give everything to God, but we are forbidden from doing “whatever it takes” or “anything in the name of” being in His good graces. We are not permitted to do evil that good may come of it. Our worship of God is to be in spirit and in truth, not ruthless, not merciless, not lawless. We are bound by the laws of God, which are the laws of love and truth, even (especially) in our service to God.

So we harden ourselves against pragmatism, against mere expediency, even when it comes to doing the will of God.

When it comes to putting God in first place, St. Faustina is a great model for us. She writes:

The essence of the virtues is the will of God. He who does the will of God faithfully, practices all the virtues. In all the events and circumstances of my life, I adore and bless the holy will of God. The holy will of God is the object of my love. In the most secret depths of my soul, I live according to His will. I act exteriorly according to what I recognize inwardly as the will of God. Sweeter to me are the torments, sufferings, persecutions, and all manner of adversities by divine will than popularity, praise, and esteem by my own will (Diary, 678).

So let us imitate her fidelity and clear sense of priorities. Let us put God’s will first and harden ourselves against whatever else tugs against that commitment. Let us ask the saints for their help and intercession, especially St. Faustina, recommitting ourselves to live by grace, and not on our own strength.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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What does it mean to work for the Catholic Church, especially by working for (or with, in the case of volunteers) the Marian Fathers? It means that we are reminded throughout our day, in ways large and small, that our earthly work depends on grace.

The devil may rage; the wealthy may grasp at their riches; the powerful may send forth their forces; the world, the flesh, and hell may do their worst. But Jesus Christ is Lord of Heaven and Earth, and there is nothing they can do about it.

Give thanks for the lives of our forebears, and obtain indulgences, knowing that we are fallen humans descended from fallen humans, and that grace is needed if we are all to meet again in happier circumstances.