Remembering the First Love

Unless we see we do not believe! We tend to believe in experience, especially when it is our own experience. This is especially true with regards to our call to holiness as it is the most radical commitment of our lives. In other words, we get discouraged when we do not experience progress and when we do not experience God. It is especially important at this time to go back to “our first love”, as St. John put it in the book of revelation.

In my case, this journey started as a teenager. It was then that I was gifted with love at first sight “with God”… Up until then, I never thought of being a priest. Since I can remember I had always envisioned myself as one day having my own family. I wanted to be an architect or an engineer.

Being a shy boy and having suffered bullying, I wanted to be better. So, I started reading Bible stories almost every day since I was 10 years old. This led me to wanting to be part of a parish youth group when I was 15. I eventually joined one at the age of 16. Those teenagers became my best friends at the time. A few months later they invited me to a retreat at a Monastery of the Strict Observance (Trappist). And that’s where it happened. On the evening of the third day, as I was walking upstairs in the retreat house, I felt struck by a deep experience of God’s love. It happened in a split of a second. It was so intense that I felt I had just experience a taste of heaven. I knew God was telling me: “Be with me”. This was a turning point in my life.

I did not tell anything to anyone for two months. I did not want to change my life plans based on fleeting feelings. At the beginning I thought it might just pass. It did not. That’s when I started contemplating a lifelong commitment with God.

The excitement of that early experience slowly ended up fading but in my case, it lasted for four years. However, it was always a point of reference again and again throughout my whole life. This is important. Most people identify the beginning of their journey towards God with a series of godly experiences. Some have a more dramatic experience than mine. In some other cases it may not be less impactful. God knows how to attract each person towards himself.

St. John of the Cross says:

It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitely converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but, as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations.

The point is that these experiences should be REMEMBERED and pondered again and again. The people of Israel experienced their liberation from Egypt with the experiences of the mighty power of God. God would eventually make a covenant with them to follow his will and would ask them to remember these events year after year and to teach it to their children through generations to come. The central liturgy of the Jewish people, the Passover, was a commemoration of these events.

The initial experiences through which God frees us from the darkness of our Egypt should be sacred memories that we turn to again and again. Not in vain did the Spirit remind the Church of Ephesus in the book of Revelation:

But I have this against you: You have abandoned your first love.

The journey of following the Lord would bring about many difficulties, many obstacles and temptations. There would be opposition. There would be failures. There would be sin. There would be disappointments. In his wisdom God would use all these trials to purify my love for him. And it would be important for me to go back again and again to that first love.

During the next videos we will continue describing what the spiritual writers say about the different stages in spiritual growth. It all begins with an awakening, an experience that leads us to focus on God. This experience would be followed by a long period of heavy purification. I will share some insights about this Purgative Way in the next videos.

Questions for pondering:

  1. Do you remember clearly your first love with God?
  2. Can you appreciate how God has been present through the most difficult moments in your life?
  3. Can you find meaning in the suffering that you have endured in your life?

Fr Lino Otero, LC:  Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. For more go to linootero.me

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