Late Have I Loved You

(This is also posted at Catholic Insight

“Late have I loved You, beauty so old and so new; late have I loved You…”

repentanceIf part of that famous passage from Book Ten in Confessions of St. Augustine were lifted out of the book and read independently, it could be interpreted as a love letter – a breathtakingly sublime, swooning-in-your-arms ode to one’s beloved.  In fact, that is exactly what it is:  Augustine’s passionate declaration of love to his Beloved.

It seems fitting to reflect on this passage during Lent.  I don’t need to have an Augustine-sized conversion to realize how late I am to turn back to the Lord who loves me the most.

We’re all guilty of it.  I’m guilty of it:  complacency and taking our loved ones for granted.  I’ve been married for almost 28 happy years.  I love my husband and he loves me.  However, as all married couples are wont to do, weak and strong marriages alike, I take my husband for granted.  He’s reliable, steadfast, a good provider, faithful.  I know he’s there for me so when I’m preoccupied with kids, work, volunteering, even blogging, I put him on a nice neat shelf and leave him there until I need him.  He doesn’t seem to mind.  “I want you to be happy,” he says, but I know it hurts because he’s not some dependable old machine that can be used and stored away.  He was made to love and to be loved.

How much more do I take God for granted?  I expect Him to always be there, to hear me when I choose to call on Him because that is His promise.  He said He would so I’m holding Him to it even if I give nothing back in return.  He’s my God on the shelf.

Life keeps me busy.  I schedule in work, household chores, kids’ sports and music practices, doctor’s appointments, Sunday Mass.  Daily prayer is sometimes rushed and distracted.  There’s so much to do and so little time; therefore, God is treated like a second-class diner relegated to the back table where I throw Him my leftovers.

When I realize that I’ve been treating my husband as “old dependable” I’m full of regret and apologies.  When I give our marriage the care and attention it needs, our relationship is deepened and even after twenty-eight years, we delight in new-found appreciation of each other.  I sincerely resolve to not take him for granted again.  I fail at this, of course, but each time it happens, I’m increasingly mindful and I try to correct myself immediately.

The same must be true of my relationship with God.  He never ceases to call out to me, wanting to draw me into a more intimate relationship with Him.  “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  Take words with you and return to the Lord.” (Hosea 14:1-2) His call is to repentance and conversion, letting go of all those distractions and sins which separate me from Him, so that I may be open to a faith-filled life and willing surrender.  His invitation seeks to transform my I-centered life into a dynamic God-centered life:  joyful, freeing, loving, whole.

The Lenten season provides us with countless opportunities to take our Father off that dusty shelf and prayerfully listen to Him, really listen to Him.  He isn’t a God to be tucked away and only taken out on special occasions or given the scraps from our busy schedules.   Let’s not wait until it’s late in the day before we finally realize that we haven’t paid any attention to Him because “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” (Romans 13:11)

 I don’t think He’ll mind if, in our inability to express our love eloquently, we speak to Him with borrowed words.  Personally, I think I’m going to borrow from St. Augustine, who so exquisitely expresses the yearning of a renewed, contrite soul:

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new:  late have I loved You.  And see, You were within and I was in the external world and sought You there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which You made.  You were with me, and I was not with You.  The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all.  You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, You put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after You.  I tasted You, and I feel but hunger and thirst for You.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is Yours.”

Chadwick, Henry. (2008) Saint Augustine Confessions: A New Translation by Henry Chadwick. Oxford University Press.

Deo Gratias

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21 Responses to Late Have I Loved You

  1. juanrbalboa says:

    What an incredibly beautiful quote from St. Augustine. I have so much to learn about the Church Fathers. Thanks for this introduction.

  2. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your torrents and all your waves and breakers sweep over me”. Ps 42, 8

    Like the song says, “Who could ask for anything more?”

  3. SR says:

    This is truly a wonderful post 8 kids! A post we all needed to read, hear and listen to. You are so right, “we all do this.” To God, spouses, children etc…. I heard in a movie once, “When you begin to lose sight of what is important, “Don’t!” It is amazing to me, how at times we can “lose” sight of the importance of God in our lives. Yet, when trouble hits, how quickly He is so all “important,” and He is so faithful to come to us, even though we have “placed Him on a shelf” for so long. I will keep this post with me today. Try to change a few things also. Thanks for doing it and God Bless, SR

  4. Love love love this reflection. I, too am guilty of putting hubby and God on the shelf. Thank you for the gentle reminder to appreciate them and love them.

  5. reinkat says:

    Thank you for another great post. You are so right.
    The quote from St. Augusting is so beautiful.

  6. ceciliamaria says:

    What a beautiful post! My relationship with my fiancé is in its infancy but I’ve learned more about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness from him than I ever thought possible. 🙂

  7. lilyboat says:

    I love that passage of St. Augustine, too. Thank you for reminding us here. It’s a daily work to keep our love for the Lord burning! But the Lord meets us at our first step toward him. I’ve experienced that so many times. Love the Lord!

  8. Teresa Rice says:

    What a beautiful quote from St. Augustine and a very inspiring post 8 Kids. We all tend to compartmentalize things and “place God and others on the shelf” due to our human weakness. We tend to keep God tucked away for certain events, times, when we are ready for Him but He is always *there* waiting for us. Instead God should be wholeheartedly an integral part of our lives all the time. In each thing we do every day. Excellent post. God Bless.

  9. Pingback: God Is Not My “Dust Collector!” | Being Faithful to Grace

  10. Biltrix says:

    “Sero te amavi! Pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova, sero te amavi!” This was the first “poem” I memorized from St Augustine. In Latin, it reads like a poem, and is so much more expressive than it comes across in any translation, although in any language it is still powerful.

    This passage, like many others from the great saint, encapsulates his entire thought. This is the line that clinches it: Et ecce intus eras et ego foris, et ibi te quaerebam, et in ista formosa quae fecisti deformis inruebam.” Translated above: “And see, You were within and I was in the external world and sought You there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which You made.”

    We seek happiness outside ourselves, emptying and losing ourselves in the process for the sake of gaining temporary joy in perishable world God made for us. But God is intus (inside) not foris (outside). The outer things in which we seek our happiness should prompt us to recognize our inner desire for everlasting happiness, to see that the world of passing pleasures cannot fill our soul, and to realize that we who are made in the image of God are made for greater joy with the God who made us to be happy with him forever.

    This passage, also from Book 10 of the Confessions, delivers the same thought:

    And what is this? I asked the earth, and it answered me, “I am not He”; and whatsoever are in it confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the living creeping things, and they answered, “We are not thy God, seek above us.” I asked the moving air; and the whole air with his inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God. ” I asked the heavens, sun, moon, stars, “Nor (say they) are we the God whom thou seekest.” And I replied unto all the things which encompass the door of my flesh: “Ye have told me of my God, that ye are not He; tell me something of Him.” And they cried out with a loud voice, “He made us. ” My questioning them, was my thoughts on them: and their form of beauty gave the answer. And I turned myself unto myself, and said to myself, “Who art thou?” And I answered, “A man.” And behold, in me there present themselves to me soul, and body, one without, the other within. By which of these ought I to seek my God? I had sought Him in the body from earth to heaven, so far as I could send messengers, the beams of mine eyes. But the better is the inner, for to it as presiding and judging, all the bodily messengers reported the answers of heaven and earth, and all things therein, who said, “We are not God, but He made us.” These things did my inner man know by the ministry of the outer: I the inner knew them; I, the mind, through the senses of my body. I asked the whole frame of the world about my God; and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.

    Augustine’s logic is simple. You cannot love the lesser over the greater. Things that owe their existence to another and eventually pass away, do not even speak for themselves. In the recollection of our heart, that is, inside our very souls, we realize that these perishable things point to their God and our God. If we fail to recognize this, when God gave us the gift of reason to be able to realize this, we enslave ourselves to misery chasing after lasting happiness and never finding it — until our souls rest in God.

    Thanks, Terry!

  11. James, you sound just like my seminar instructor 😉 I am much obliged for your very clear explanations. It is I who need to thank you.

  12. SR says:

    I want you to know, I saved this post in my “favorites” so I can always go back to it:>) Thanks so much, you will never know how life changing this was for me. God used you in a very special way. God Bless, SR

  13. Beautiful quote, beautiful post. Thank you!

  14. Pingback: Adventures with St. Augustine – Part 4 | 8 Kids And A Business

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