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How Do I Love God With All My Heart?

January 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Loving God, Praise, Prayer

Dear Father John, I want to love God with all my heart, but I don't know where to start. How do I do this?

Jesus1kLOVING GOD WITH all your heart means desiring him above all things and making your intimate, personal relationship with him into the highest priority of your life, the center around which every other facet of your existence finds its proper and glorious place. But how do you do that? How do you make that happen?

The heart expresses itself through the other three modes that Jesus identifies in the greatest commandment: loving God with all our soul, mind, and strength. Attending to each of those arenas, therefore, produces an indirect effect on the heart as well, educating and purifying it, and nourishing its Christian core. Nevertheless, you can also attend to the heart directly.

Thoughts of the Heart
We spend a lot of time thinking about the things we desire. When we treasure something, it occupies our mind. And, conversely, the more we think about something, the more we tend to desire it.

This is part of human nature; it flows from the connection between the two spiritual faculties that human nature possesses–intelligence and will, the power to know and the power to choose. For us human beings, these faculties utilize instruments to operate: our senses, our imagination, our memory, our emotions, and our passions. Unlike angels, whose access to truth and goodness is purely spiritual and immediate, human persons discover truth and goodness gradually, through the mediation of spatial-temporal experience. This is why we can figure out a solution to a complex problem by making diagrams and pictures, doodling, trying various alternatives in our imagination, and discussing it with others.

And so, what we choose to look at, think about, and daydream about will affect the desires that grow and mature in our heart. The intensity of our love for a certain object can increase or decrease according to how much attention we pay to that object and how much space it takes up in our external and internal senses (memory and imagination).

Tricks of the Devil
Gargoyle
The devil understands this reality and uses it in the dynamics of temptation. St. James explains how temptation begins with something that stirs up a self-centered desire, and then, if we choose to pay attention to that desire, it grows. If we feed it with more attention, we will eventually act on it, committing sin. If we continue to act on it, the sin can become a habit and even choke off the life of grace:

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death. (James 1:14—15)

The devil, agitating our fallen nature and the fallen world in which we live, will try to monopolize our attention with images, ideas, thoughts, and invitations that can lure us into self-absorption and eventually into destructive self-indulgence. The enemy of our souls wants to occupy our minds with a multiplicity of inputs that can divide our hearts, draining our desire for God and filling up our desires for any number of petty idols.

Spiritual Heart Supplements
Forming our heart in Christ follows the contrary path. To feed our desire for God and our desire to make our relationship with him the core and fountain of everything we do requires thinking frequently about him and his magnificent plan for our lives. Just as a little boy will feed his desire for a new bike by looking at a picture of that bike every day, so too we need to gaze at the Lord and savor his dream for us as often as we can. We need to feed the central desire of our Christian heart with thoughts that are in harmony with that desire. And we need to intentionally stir up those thoughts all the time. The Psalms frequently make choosing to think about God and his plans (his name, promise, judgments, testimonies) a central theme for prayer:

In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you…. At all times my soul is stirred with longing for your judgments…. Direct my heart toward your testimonies and away from gain. Avert my eyes from what is worthless; by your way give me life. When I recite your judgments of old…I am comforted, LORD. Even at night I remember your name in observance of your law, LORD. (Psalm 119:11, 20, 36—37, 52, 55)

Most of the traditional pious practices associated with Christianity have this as their goal. Displaying images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints on our walls, desks, rearview mirrors, and screen savers; wearing a cross or a crucifix around our necks; wearing blessed medals; dropping by a church and making the Sign of the Cross with holy water; asking for a priest’s blessing; praying before meals…. Practices like these set reminders for us to think about God. They can nourish the core desire of our hearts.

Eating Right
But the meat and potatoes of forming the Christian heart remain prayer and the sacraments… Without a real, growing life of prayer–in all of its forms, but most essentially in a daily, personal God-time–our core desire for God will always remain undernourished, and our spiritual growth will be stunted. Infrequent or superficial contact with the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession, robs our souls of essential spiritual nutrients. Jesus made this clear so many times:

CharlesBosseronChambers_DetailFrom ThyWillBeDone-smOn Prayer: “Then Jesus told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary…” (Luke 18:1); “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

On the Eucharist: “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.’” (John 6:53—57)

ConfessionArtgateFondazioneCariplo-MolteniGiuseppeLaConfessioneOn confession (Jesus to his apostles): “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23)

So, God himself gives us a new heart when we become Christians, but he leaves it up to us to make that heart grow.

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Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.

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Art: Welcome by Jesus Christ, Thecatholicguy, own work, 22 March 2012, CC-SA; Gargoyles, Magdalen College, Oxford England, 27 July 2009, Own work, Chris Creagh; both Wikimedia Commons. Detail from Thy Will be Done, Charles Bosseron Chambers, 1925, Restored Traditions, used with permission. The Confession, Giuseppe Molteni, 1838, CC-SA, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Jan England

    Thank you Fr. Bartunek. I appreciate your posts so much.

  • Judy Silhan

    After taking Dan’s class Navigating the Interior Life, I began, as you mentioned, beginning each day with prayer. To know and love our Lord more, I started attending daily Mass. You mentioned briefly the power of the evil spirit to dissuade us from loving Jesus with our heart, mind and soul. For the past few months, I have been increasingly involved in the Church, our faith, even a Catholic job whose apostolate is evangelization. Perhaps because of this, I have been bombarded with thoughts 24/7, every day, of God is not real. The Mass, the Bible are not true. Why are you believing all of this, etc. It seems that the more I desire to love Christ and follow his will the more I have been experiencing these thoughts. Thanks for a great reflection, Fr. Bartunek. Your retreats at RC Spiritual Direction are well received also.

    • Philip George Regan

      If troubled by the evil one summon your Gaurdian Angel – I also add “Precious Blood of Jesus Christ – Save Me” Then as Saint Vianney suggested offer up any temptations for the conversion of sinners (I recite the Divine Mercy prayer “Blood and Water which gushed forth form the Heart of Jesus – I trust in You” that really stops Satan as he is helping Gods Kingdom by his efforts to tempt you !

      • Judy Silhan

        Thanks for your much needed help.

  • Patricia

    We are commanded to love God with our whole heart and mind and strength. Because we do, love of neighbor should naturally flow from that, most especially in helping those in need. But when receiving Holy Communion, our mind and hearts desire and must focus on our relationship with Jesus, personal intimacies of love, the grace we are receiving, the miracle of the sacrament, etc. It is so sad to have people trying to interfere with this experience claiming “love of neighbor” and trying to interact with someone while and immediately after they are receiving the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord. Isn’t it like the concept that we have to put on our own “oxygen mask on the airplane” before we try to help others with theirs? Isn’t the reception of Holy Communion and the short time thereafter, our most intimate and personal encounter with the Living Christ? How can ANYTHING or ANYONE try to get in the middle of that or try to take that away from us? If we want this intense personal time with Jesus uninterrupted because it is so important to us…….is that loving God with our whole heart for that short time and an increase of our focus on Him ALONE for that moment in time as a resistant act against temptation or is that a self-centered desire ….a trick of the devil?

  • BlueMit11

    I can only echo Jan. You give such basic and fundamental advice, yet we can’t hear these things often enough. Thanks for your solid spirituality in the heart and mind of the Church, Father!

  • Clanci45

    I almost continually read spiritual works fro thr time zi get up in the morning until the news comes on at 5 pm. I read daily readings, the Saints, and write on the Internet to people zi think can help me. I say the Rosary fairly frequently and St Michael’s Rosary. Some have suggested I am driifting in a World of Sin and therefore very confused. I just read s book on Bondage and Obbsession. I sat up very late last night wondering why zi can no longer love God or feel his love for me. I had an zevangelical conversion in the early 70s then became addicted to drugs in the late 90’s…is it possible I am oppressed or possed and that is why I can no longer connect with God. My local priest ( of many parishes) can not help I am very remote area for help….do not know who to ask or what next step should be…what I am doing is not working.

    • Patricia

      Do you go to daily Mass and receive Christ, our source of all goodness? If you can not actually attend Mass in person, you can watch it on EWTN at 8:00 am, 12 noon, and 7:00 pm. M-F. Also, just pray from you heart to God in your own words throughout the day. Maybe you could also volunteer somewhere to help others. Call and cheer someone up or reconnect with friends and family. Read only good things and fill you mind with works of Truth, Beauty, and Love. What are you going for God?

    • marybernadette

      You may have some kind of bondage that needs Deliverance prayer.
      It is also true, however, that the more you get close to the Lord, there are times of ‘dyness’ where you have doubts about the existence of God as you do not have a ‘felt’ experience of His Presence. As we mature in Christ, we need to expect these times in our ‘walk with the Him.” The Saints are great teachers of this. I suggest that you read ‘ St. John of the Cross (dark night of the soul) Therese of Lisieux (story of a soul) etc. However, if you have need to be delivered from ‘bondage to evil spirits’ I suggest you first google ‘Unbound ministry’ and tell them your story. They are a Catholic ministry dealing with different types of bondage. If you do need an exorcism they may be able to direct you as to what to do.

  • Patricia

    From the Old Testament: Yahweh said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? and how long will they not believe in me, for all the signs which I have worked among them? (Numbers 14:11)

    From the New Testament: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (Jesus in John 14:11)

    Evidence of the Existence of God by St. Thomas Aquinas:

    • LizEst

      We appreciate and welcome your comments, Patricia. However, we have omitted part of your very lengthy comment of 627 words, which is equivalent to, or exceeds, the average length of many of our posts. We will reconsider it when it is significantly reduced in scope (in accord with the criteria in our FAQ)…or provide a source that is faithful to the Magisterium, to which readers may be pointed to. Thank you…and God bless you!

      • Patricia

        What is above is just as I sent it…there was no more than what I see now. -;)

        • LizEst

          Yeah, the edit feature misfired. Look again!

          • Patricia

            Ok, it is shortened now.
            It saddened me to see a posting asking for evidence that there is a God. The person must be seeking to even be writing on this site. It reminds me of St. Therese when she says, “”On each fresh occasion of combat, when the enemy desires to challenge me, I conduct myself valiantly: knowing that to fight a duel is an unworthy act, I turn my back upon the adversary without ever looking him in the face; then I run to my Jesus and tell Him I am ready to shed every drop of blood in testimony of my belief that there is a Heaven, I tell Him I am glad to be unable to contemplate, while on earth, with the eyes of the soul, the beautiful Heaven that awaits me so He will deign to open it for eternity to poor unbelievers.” Story of A Soul, Chapter IX
            i will assume that is a sincere comment from someone and I hope they will pursue the thought and look up St. thomas Aquinas’ Five Proofs for God from the Summa Theological. After reading them, one must pause because they are so profound!

          • LizEst

            Yes! Thanks, Patricia.

            For beggarsfarm — Aquinas’ Five Proofs for God from the Summa (to which Patricia refers)…as well as many others can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06608b.htm if you would like to read them.

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