- – The Hound of Heaven
Before the swinging sixties, before Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, and even before Bill Haley and the Comets had set these Isles throbbing with the sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I fell in love for the first time. I was only sixteen, but it was the real thing. My Juliet, who was so beautiful, so pure, so perfect in every way seemed utterly beyond me. How could she possibly feel even so much as a spark, to match the flame that set me alight with love for her? I simply couldn’t believe it possible. How could such a beautiful creature even want to look at a gauche beanpole like me, who hadn’t even grown out of pimples and into poetry?
Yet, despite my incredulity some of my friends assured me that she did. I still couldn’t believe it even when some of her friends told me the same. If, after a Barn Dance at the local church hall, she hadn’t told me herself I would never have believed it. But she did and I floated around for a week on ‘cloud nine’ until a thought struck me that brought me down to earth again. She might think she loved me, but what if she knew what I was really like? What if she knew what a selfish self-absorbed oaf I really was? What if she knew how I behaved at home, how I treated my friends? What if she knew about all the hidden sins that shamed me – what then? The truth of the matter was, she was having all the same misgivings too. This happens to all Romeos and to all Juliets. The impasse that would otherwise permanently separate them is usually overcome when some sort of mutual confession takes place. The truth has to be told come what may, that love can continue on its way. If it is true love then love understands, makes allowances, and forgives as it is transposed into loving mercy and forgiveness.
Exactly the same thing happens when parents, teachers, and preachers tell us that God really does love us. At first it is difficult to believe, at least as we have come to understand the word love. Then comes the moment when God tells us himself by enabling us to experience his love reaching out to touch us, even if it is only for a brief moment in or out of prayer. Suddenly everything changes, but nevertheless the same misgivings begin to fill us that filled Romeo and Juliet. Can he continue to love me, when all my faults and failings are known? Once again it is time to express them, to find out if we are still loved despite them all. It is then that God’s love is seen for what it is, reaching out to us as loving mercy, forgiving even the most hidden and even the most hideous sins that would prevent him making his home within us, as promised at the Last Supper.
It is then that God’s loving mercy is seen for what it is, for the first but not for the last time. The healing, and the whole-making process will continue unless pride prevails upon us to run away, as it did for Adam. The Jewish existential philosopher, Martin Buber, reminds us how God called out in Paradise lost: – “Adam where are you, Adam where are you?” – not because God did not know where Adam was, but because Adam did not know where he was, as pride sent him headlong into hiding from God for fear that his sin had put him beyond his loving mercy. No sin, however heinous is beyond his Divine Mercy. What Adam did after he had sinned is what we can sometimes do for a life time as the poet Francis Thompson so clearly expressed in–The Hound of Heaven: – ‘I fled him down the nights and down the days, I fled him, down the arches of the years. I fled him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from him, under running laughter. But with unhurried chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy, they beat – and a Voice beat more instant than the feet’ – “All things betray thee who betrayest Me.”
This coming Tuesday on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Year of Divine Mercy will be inaugurated by Pope Francis. But first, before we proclaim God’s Mercy to the world, we must first learn to receive it for ourselves for nobody listens to those who don’t first practise what they preach. This Mini- series is dedicated to showing how the age old Christian spiritual tradition teaches us how to do this, by learning how to stop running and begin waiting on God, to receive his Divine Mercy. Only then will we change from what we were into what God made us to become, so that we can teach others what has been, or rather is being done for us, by his Divine Mercy.
In order to help us open the doors of our minds, our hearts, and our souls to God’s Mercy I will be publishing a podcast in the next few days on how to revitalize our own daily prayer. It was given as a talk only a week ago to a group of committed Catholics in Hampshire, England, not far from my home. Adore:Alton Day of Renewal I do hope it will be of help to you to enable you to revitalize your daily prayer during this Holy Jubilee Year. Then, each day, as you pray, you can receive God’s mercy for yourself so that you can be better placed to give it to others.
First published in The Catholic Universe Friday 4 December 2015