My dog, Mattie, just cannot get close enough to human beings. It really doesn’t matter who it is, she’s never met a stranger. If you sit in a chair and give her any indication that you’d like for her to come over, you’ve pretty much opened yourself up to the gradual progression from pat on the head –> paws on the lap –> large Labrador Retriever sitting on you. If she could get any closer to you she would. We joke that she would jump into your body if she could.
Mattie isn’t unique among canines, of course, and there is certainly a life lesson for all of us in the life of our dogs. It seems they love without condition. And they crave our touch, our affection, our speech, our very being.
“Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you….” (Job 12.7)
God has given us so many signs and wonders to show His love. He made us and all of creation out of love in hopes that we would return it with thankful hearts. But not only did he wish to give us the beauty of creation, he went further. He gave us the fullness of Himself.
When He saw that we were not returning His love and depriving ourselves of His grace, he poured Himself out to get as close to us as He possibly could – by entering the womb of a woman and being born to walk among us. And that love was still rejected. He hung on a cross.
But He did not allow that to be the last word – he continued to pursue us. He walked out of that tomb and sent us His Spirit to live within and among us. And He continues to show up every time we gather together at Mass to enter our bodies and nourish us with His love.
It has been told that St. Francis of Assisi preached to the animals. Sometimes I think Mattie preaches to me.
When I was very young, my mom would take me to see my great-grandmother at the nursing home where she resided. Her name was Mamie and she was a tough character, so I’m told. She dipped snuff and when she kissed me it would run down my cheek and mom would have to clean it up. My memories of those visits are in blurred snippets, but when I entered her room she would always exclaim to me, “I love you! I love you! I love you!”
That’s how I knew her and remembered her and so I began calling her “I love you”. As a result, all other great-grandchildren born after me called her that too. I didn’t give this much thought growing up and into my adult years, that was just our name for her – one beautiful sentence.
Though my great-grandmother has long passed, my grandmother is still living and may be in her last days. Visiting her recently got me thinking about “I love you” and it reminded me of another One whose name is also a beautiful sentence. When God asked Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses asks God what to say to them when they ask who sent him. God’s reply was “I am who I am.” “Tell them ‘I AM has sent me to you.’
We read in the First Letter of John that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” The very nature of God is love. That’s who He is. And we see in the Scriptures a God relentlessly pursuing a relationship with us and saying over and over again in one way or another: “I love you! I love you! I love you!”
In addition to “I AM” there are other names for God in the Bible – Elohim, Adonai, Father – and though “I love you” is not among them, it is certainly expressed in His life and His desire for us. And if someone ever asks you who God is, “I love you” would be one beautiful response.