Recently my attention was drawn to something said by the great German biblical scholar Rudolf Schnackenburg. Commenting on St. John’s First Letter, he says, “The love of God has been ‘revealed,’ that is, become open to experience through God’s sending of his only Son into the world” (The Johannine Epistles: A Commentary, 208).
The nature of God revealing himself to human beings is that God makes himself accessible to our experience. In other words, no longer is our capacity to relate to God simply intellectual — what we might think about God and the nature of God — but because of revelation we can touch and be touched by God in our emotional, truly personal selves.
On July 15 we celebrated the Feast of St. Bonaventure, the Franciscan doctor of the Church. Throughout this saint’s writings is found the insistence that human beings must approach God on a deeply personal and experiential basis. Answering the question about how to experience God, St. Bonaventure says, “Seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love” (from the Office of Readings in The Liturgy of the Hours).
Notice particularly, “the longing of the will, not the understanding” and “seek the bridegroom not the teacher.” Bonaventure would never deny the precious ability of human beings to use their reason to contemplate God. Yet, the point here is that God desires to live in a truly and fully human relationship with us. God desires that our spirits be touched with the experience of his love, his saving passion for us. God desires that our hearts catch fire with a passionate love for him.
This is another way of saying what Pope Benedict insisted on at the beginning of his very first encyclical, God Is Love, when he said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Or more simply and directly, Pope Francis’ often-repeated invitation that we allow Jesus’ word to “warm our hearts.”
A living faith is a faith that touches the whole of our humanity and, yes, warms our hearts.