There was once a missionary priest who had served for a number of years in Africa, and when he returned home to the United States he shared this description of an important lesson he had learned: “I had studied long and hard to learn the language of the native people. It took me more than three years to become comfortable in normal, everyday conversation. One day after preaching at Mass on Sunday, one of the men came up to me and said, ‘Father, you are good to come this long distance to teach us about God, but you seem to have a different idea about Him than we have. You seem to search for God with a telescope. It is as though you see your prey [or target] at a distance, but never get close enough to capture Him. We think of God differently. For us, it is more like the tiger hunting for food. Once he charges and leaps on his prey, the chase is over. Only, for us, the tiger is God. We are the prey. God has already [leaped and] landed and claimed us’” (Fr. John T. Catoir, JCD, God Delights in You, p. 25).
The missionary priest was stunned by this insight; thinking about it, it reminded him of the great 19th century poem by Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven,” which describes God’s relentless pursuit of a soul that had initially rejected Him, but finally let itself be captured by Divine Love. As the African tribesman said, God is the Hunter, and we are the hunted. Because of our free will, we can choose to ignore or even reject the Lord, but until the moment of our final breath, He will always be ready to forgive us, will never give up on us, and will never cease loving us. The Lord is not unapproachable, far off in the distance, or playing hide-and-seek with us. He is always searching for and pursuing us, and always ready to reveal Himself to us—if only we give some sign of our readiness to accept His love and share it with others.
Because of original sin, recognizing and responding to God’s love is usually not a simple, one-time event; it often involves a process having many ups and downs, with times of spiritual progress interspersed with setbacks and failures. God is very patient with us, willing to work with us wherever we are on our life’s journey, while gently drawing us ever closer to Himself. Sometimes this process involves suffering in the Name of Jesus, as St. Peter (1 Peter 3:15-18) explains; when that happens, we must continue relying on the Lord’s grace to keep our consciences clear. The world tries to deceive, frighten, or intimidate us into giving up our faith; to avoid this, we must use the grace God offers, rather than relying on our own strength. It’s also important to be an active part of the Church and remain subject to its authority, following the example of Philip and his converts (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17). Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of John (14:15-21) the importance of obedience—for as He says, if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. Anyone can claim to love the Lord; however, this love is genuine only if we’re actively trying to discover and do His will.
A woman named Dorothy was listening to a Christian radio program one day as she drove to the supermarket. The host of the radio show was talking about kindness, and he said, “I wonder how many of you listening to me on your car radio right now are thinking about how you can be kind as you’re driving?” This question hit home with Dorothy, and she wondered how she could be a kind driver. A moment later she saw a woman waiting to pull out into heavy traffic, so she stopped and allowed her to do so; the woman smiled and waved her thanks, and that made Dorothy feel good. At the supermarket she saw an empty parking place near the store, but as she was about to pull in, another driver started pulling in from the other side. Dorothy graciously stopped, backed out, and found another spot. The other driver, a woman, walked over to Dorothy and said, “I can’t believe what you just did; anyone else would have made me back out.” Dorothy explained she had just been listening to a radio program talking about the importance of kindness, and the two women began talking as they entered the store. It turned out the other woman had just moved into the area, didn’t know anyone, and was looking for a church to join. Dorothy invited her to come with her to her parish that Sunday—and that invitation, along with a chance encounter rooted in an act of kindness, marked the beginning of a strong friendship that blessed both women, their families, and their parish (Gerard Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, p. 21).
Jesus promised the apostles He would not leave them orphans; rather, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them always. This promise is also made to us. The Holy Spirit, Whom we received in Baptism and again in Confirmation, is capable of gently but powerfully arranging and guiding the course of our lives—and the more we allow Him to do so, the more we, and the people around us, are blessed. There are so many ways we can allow the Holy Spirit to be at work within us: going out of our way to be kind and friendly to others, as Dorothy did; letting someone else teach us about God, as the missionary priest humbly allowed to happen; silently asking the Spirit to give us the right words to say in a difficult or confusing situation; acting on a sudden or unexpected inspiration to do something good; taking some quiet time each day for prayer and spiritual reading; giving other people the benefit of the doubt when they act in a way that appears selfish or foolish; and praying for guidance when we have important—or even unimportant—decisions to make.
Jesus is calling each one of us to live in this way—and if we obey Him, the love of God will truly be with us. In the jungles and grasslands of Africa, a tiger stalks its prey for the sake of killing and eating—and so the targeted animal does everything possible to avoid this fate. God, however, watches and follows and shows Himself so that He might bless us, and bless other people through us. Love makes this possible; love brings us true peace, enriches us spiritually, and prepares us for eternal joy. Let us surrender ourselves into the loving hands of God, and thereby discover the fullness of peace and joy.