In celebration of the release of Pope Francis’s book, The Church of Mercy, several of our dotMagis bloggers will be sharing reflections this month based on the words of Pope Francis.
My 14-month-old granddaughter, Charlotte, loves everyone. I watch her work a room—a restaurant, a church dinner, any gathering of relatives. With her newly-polished walking skills, she toddles around, looking up and smiling at everyone. Last week at a parish dinner, she walked up to two girls who were about nine years old. I watched as she smiled up at them and held out her arms. As she anticipated, they melted, picked her up, and oohed and aahed over her for the next ten minutes. She was very happy.
Charlotte is not guarded about her life, and she fully expects that she will be deeply loved and taken care of by all who encounter her. A lot of us probably start out that way, but as we get older someone steals our toys or socks us on the arm. We, and Charlotte, will stop smiling at total strangers. It is part of the human condition to become more cautious about loving. Yes, we love other people but are acutely aware of their flaws, and we love them in our own, very human but limited way. Often we feel that love has to be earned in some way. Worst of all, we project all of this human frailty onto our relationship with God. We somehow assume that God loves us in the same limited, cautious way—and that God will love us more if we are better or more perfect.
I think Charlotte’s view of life is the same vision of love God wants for us. God waits for us so patiently and lovingly, and we put him off. We believe we need to get our act together before God can really love us—because that is how we tend to love. It is our fears that keep us from believing in that love and moving toward it.
I thought of Charlotte and her outstretched arms when I read what Pope Francis said: “God is indeed waiting for you; he asks of you only the courage to go to him.” In Charlotte’s world, God does love her infinitely, with no questions asked. In my world, I am more tentative. Can God really love me that freely? Even when I squirm in awareness of my own well-counted flaws?
This is where Charlotte’s wisdom trumps her Nana’s. Yes, God does love us without measure and with depths we can’t possibly imagine. God waits for us with a loving gaze and open arms, and as Pope Francis says, he asks us only for the courage to respond. This Easter season is the right time to realize God waits for us and to take the first step toward him, with arms outstretched and hope in our hearts. That’s where we find love.