By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
A couple of years ago I was sharing the Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus with a Ministry Formation class when someone asked me: “What is the most difficult thing about helping people to become Jesus-like Leaders?”
My brain told me I needed a moment to think about that. But my mouth blurted out an answer.
“Getting people to realize and appreciate that God really does love them unconditionally.”
And there it was. Out in front of God and everybody – or at least the 25 or so people in the room.
I didn’t so much answer the question as I heard the answer.
But as soon as I heard it, I knew I was right. Getting people to realize and appreciate that God really does love them unconditionally is far and away the most difficult – and most important – part about helping them become Jesus-like Leaders.
Why? What is the problem? What is the stumbling block?
I wish I knew. Maybe it’s that we’re so focused on earning or becoming deserving of God’s love that we can’t help but struggle with the reality that God loves us completely and unconditionally – even though there’s no way we could ever fully deserve that love on his part.
Just as I know many people who are obsessed with the futile task of trying to earn God’s love, I also know people who have taken the equally futile course of just giving up.
They tell me how unworthy they are. I tell them it doesn’t matter: God still loves them.
They just shake their heads and mumble a denial. There’s no way God could love them. They’re absolutely convinced of that.
I tell them that we’re dealing with something of a paradox: It’s true that there’s no way they could ever be deserving of God’s love, sins and virtues aside. But there’s also no way they can ever diminish or destroy that love. It’s just there. Always was. Always will be.
I wish I could be more persuasive.
If they are parents, I try to draw an analogy with their love for their own children. As a parent myself, I don’t think there’s a love that comes closer to being truly unconditional in this world than the love of a parent for a child.
But not everyone is a parent. And even those who are often don’t get it.
I don’t get through to many of them very often. I pray that God has a way. I apologize that apparently I am not His best choice for this task.
Here’s the crux of the matter: It’s one thing to be so grateful by God’s love for you that you are on fire to requite it. It’s quite another to try to be deserving of that love.
No matter how good we become, no matter how pure our heart grows, we will never deserve God’s love. But we can always be grateful for it and try to reciprocate it -- knowing we will fall short but wanting to try our best, our very best.
And then trying to make our best today better tomorrow.
Holy Week is a good time to reflect on how much God loves us – owing nothing to our own merits.
If you want to get your head around how much He loves you, read and reflect on the scripture readings for Mass between now and Easter. You’ll find them in the frame at the bottom of this web page, updated daily. If you miss a day or want to read ahead, go to the U.S. bishops’ website and click on the appropriate day in the calendar prominently displayed on the homepage.
Reflect on how much Jesus suffered and how he gave up his human life for you. Yes, for you. That’s how much Jesus loves you – more than life itself.
And you didn’t have to do a darn thing to deserve it. Heck, you weren’t even born yet. Still, he knew you. And he loved you. Unto death … a very painful and humiliating death, at that.
Think about that. Close your eyes and try to visualize the moments of his passion and death described in the Gospels.
Then click here and scroll down to verses 36-42 in the Gospel of Matthew to join Jesus in his hour of agony in the garden. It’s clear his suffering and death are not something he wants. But he will do it for you. Why, because it’s God’s will.
God the Father loves you that much. God the Son loves you that much. God the Spirit loves you that much.
Reflect on that over and over again … for as long as the Spirit gives you breath to breathe.
Happy Easter, dearly loved child of God!