The Motherhood of Divine Love
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

In the first reading, it is revealed that God’s love is like a mother’s love. Think of a devoted mother, not the defective kind that we read about in the papers or watch on A&E, but a genuine, psychologically healthy mother of a newborn. The entire focus of her life is on her child. Her whole existence is devoted to her child; her every thought bears upon the child, and when she sleeps, her ears are hypersensitive, alert to even the slightest sound. She listens for the cry of her baby. A mother’s love is so focused on the child that it can be said that the mother loves her child more than she loves herself. And can you think of a greater pain than that of a mother who has lost her baby? A genuine mother would rather die so that her child may live than live with the pain of having lost her baby.

But, no matter how intense that love, the love of a human mother is limited. There are mothers who have failed their children, who have forgotten them. In fact, it is now legal and culturally permissible for a woman to forget her baby in the womb. But even if these forget, “I will never forget you”, says the Lord. God’s love is maternal, and it infinitely surpasses the love of even the best mother.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but St. Catherine of Siena said that God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us.

Now that’s hard to believe. In fact, most people don’t believe it—that God loves you as if you are the only one to love. Most people don’t believe that God’s gaze rests on them all the time, like the mind of a mother always on her child.

But the only way to know that love is to trust. Faith is the only way to know it. That’s true even on the natural level; the only way to know the love of another is through natural faith. If someone tells you that he loves you, or she loves you, you don’t know whether or not that is a genuine love. You don’t know if you are being lied to or taken for a ride, or being used. The only way to know that love is to trust. You have to receive that person’s love by choosing to love that person in return.

But you are risking a great deal when you do that. You are disclosing yourself, placing your heart in his or her hands. You are entrusting yourself to that other. That’s faith. It is a horrible thing when that trust is betrayed; and how often it is betrayed. But the only way to know whether that love is genuine is through trust.

The strange thing about man is that he finds it easier to trust sinful human beings than to trust God, who cannot betray us. But it is only through that trust that we will come to know the Lord’s love for us. God calls us to rest in Him: “Rest in God alone, my soul. Only in God is my soul at rest; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all”.

The human heart is restless. I have a friend who is an atheist. He lives in the United States, and we’ve debated for years. Our last debate was during the Christmas holidays, but what is interesting is that he will always start the argument. He’ll send an email, some anti-religious YouTube video and ask me to comment. Recently I simply asked him: “Why do you care? You are an atheist. You think religion is foolish superstitious nonsense. You despise religion, you are convinced that there is no God. So why do you care what I think?” The fact is, he is not at rest. He can’t stop thinking about God, like Jean Paul Sartre, the most famous atheist of the 20th century, who couldn’t stop talking about the God that, he argued, cannot exist.

The human heart has a thirst for rest that cannot be quenched by any created thing. St. Augustine explained why in the first page of the first chapter of his Confessions: “Oh, Lord, you created us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”.

God created us for Himself. He did not create us for ourselves; He did not create us for the pleasures of this world. He created us to be united to Him forever in perfect rest, to behold Him face to face in the Beatific Vision. Religion is relationship. That’s why my atheist friend cannot stop reading about religion; man is naturally religious; he was created for relationship—not merely relationship with other human beings, but with the First, the Origin of our own existence, God Himself.

And a relationship of love can only be founded upon trust, upon fidelity. He reveals His love, and He has revealed it definitively in the Person of His Son, most vividly in the death of His Son on the cross. The cross is the perfect, unsurpassable image of the Love that burns in God’s interior.

God desires, more than the most perfect mother, to permeate our life with the awareness of his love, but to know love requires trust, and that’s one thing that we always fall short of, which is why we don’t know His love as much as He wants us to know it. Could you have a relationship, built on love, with someone who could not trust the love you have for him? Who needed evidence before he would return your love? Who always needed to be reassured that you had his best interest in mind? That’s not a relationship. But that’s how many people relate to God. They don’t really know the Lord.

The French have two verbs for knowledge: the one is savoir, which is “know how”, as in knowing how to fix a car or repair something, and connaitre, which is the intimate knowledge of a person. The latter comes from two words: con or with, and naitre, to give birth. When a woman gives birth, the baby comes forth from her interior, in which the child was conceived and nurtured for nine months. To know a person connaturally is to know them from within oneself, through relationship or intimate union with that person. Connatural knowledge is not taught, as mathematics and history are taught.

The life of God must be conceived within the interior of the heart and be nurtured if we are to know Him, to know the love He has for us. Then we will know from within that His gaze rests upon us always, and that He is solicitous for our well being, more than any human mother can be. The result will be a marked decrease in our day to day anxiety. We will know the peace that comes from resting in God.