Late have I loved You, beauty so old and so new; late have I loved You…
If part of that famous passage from Book Ten in Augustine’s Confessions 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 twenty-eight 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” (Hos 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” (Rom 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.”
Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford University Press, 2008).