Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya was a female Sufi mystic who lived in the 8th century Basra in the present day Iraq. She was remarkable for her single-minded love for God. She was so beautiful but unmarried. She was asked why she did not want to get married and she replied: “My heart is filled with God that there is no space for a husband.” One day, she was running around in the city with a torch and a bucket of water. She was asked the meaning of the gesture and she said: “I want to put out the fires of Hell and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship God from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.” For Rabi’a as for all the saints, religion is all about love. St. Teresa of Avila summed it up: ” It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” Religion is about loving God wholly and entirely, and loving children of God as ourselves; it is not about keeping rules! This is what Jesus tries to teach us when he summed up all the commandments into one: Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself (Mk. 12.30)
That religion is about love confronts our attitude and beliefs about religion and religious practice. Some of us grew up with such a terrible image of God as a judge, a tyrant, one who keeps a list of our sins and mistakes. And so, we go to Church or say our prayers to avoid that “look” from God. How sadly mistaken we are! More than anything, God desires a passionate friendship with each one of us. He is the Beloved of every human heart and He searches out for us, nudging us through our experiences to come back to Him so we can enjoy the embrace and kiss of His love and friendship. Without this love and friendship with God, we grow cold and uncommitted in our religious practice; at most, we go to Church and say our prayers out of habit. But is that all our heart desires?
There is one commandment: love God and others (Mk. 12.30-31). Every other commandment flows from this pillar. God desires that we serve and worship Him with the passion of love; that our hearts burn with the fire of Divine Love, so we can be truly disciples of Jesus Christ, convinced and committed to the values of our Crucified and Risen Lord and the Mission of the Church.
Religion as love frees us from the monotony of obligation or quid pro quo religion. Then our religious practices will simply express the words of the bride in the Song of Songs, “I seek you whom my heart longs for” (Song of Songs 3:2), for God is the Beloved of our hearts. Love is the foundation of our lives and of the universe. This love is God and we come to Him through love, and are transformed in that love. After all, we are made in the image of God who is love, so that only Divine Love can fully satisfy our hearts. This truth has been crowded out in the confused market of desires and ideas in our society. No wonder many of us feel so empty.
Nothing is like God; nothing equals knowing God. But it is all about love-and it means loving Him in an absolute manner, making Him the center of our lives. Pray for the grace to truly taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34.8), and that religion is about love and nothing else. Take these words of Julian of Norwich to heart: “Our souls will never be at rest until they come to Him in the knowledge that He is the fullness of delight and the very essence of life.”
Pray for this grace this week. God is with you.