Thursday, March 17, 2016

Imperfect love of God, according to Catherine of Siena

Reading Catherine's Dialogue is proving an immensely edifying exercise, because she analyzes the spiritual states of different Christians with sharp insight and subtlety. She describes a particular category of Christians who love God with an imperfect love—a description which many of us might satisfy.

These persons suppose that they love God and virtue, but really they love the consolations and pleasures that the spiritual life affords them. They enjoy the consolations that God send them in his love, but they love the consolations rather than the God who gives them. The evidence is in the fact that, when these pleasures are taken away from, their spiritual life sputters and stalls, like a car that's run out of gasoline.

The danger with these persons is that they do not really love God for his own sake, but only for what they can get out of him. Consequently when God no longer gives them consolations, they more than likely will turn away:

These [imperfect lovers] grow lax, resisting from the service they were giving their neighbors and pulling back from their charity if it seems they have lost their own profit or some comfort they had for merely found in them. And this comes about because their love was not genuine. They love their neighbors with the same love with which they love me—for their own profit. 

Unless their desire for perfection makes them recognize their imperfection, it is impossible for them not to turn back. To have eternal life it is essential to love without regard for one's own interest. Fleeing sin for fear of punishment is not enough to give eternal life, nor is it to embrace virtue for one's own profit (60).

Unfortunately this may describe many people who frequent the big, hip churches in America. They enjoy the emotional experience induced by the music, the sermons move them and encourage them, and even participating in community service might prove fulfilling to them. But so long as they do all this merely in pursuit of the good feelings they get, they love imperfectly and are in danger of falling away at the first sight of trouble and hardship.

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