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Can I Really Love God with All My Strength?

September 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Loving God, Spiritual Direction

Can I Really Love God with All My Strength?

Dear Father John,  Jesus said we were supposed to love God with all our strength.  It’s hard to do anything with all my strength, especially as I get older.  Is it really possible to love God with all my strength?

MANY POSTMODERN ideologies and theories of human behavior tend to either over- or underemphasize the power of human freedom. These have  seeped into popular culture at every level, and in some cases they have even affected how we understand the gospel itself.

A Dangerous Disconnect

Behaviorist and immanentist schools of thought tend to blame all of our behaviors and choices on influences beyond our control. According to them, subconscious or unconscious complexes and urges or circumstantial and social pressures exercise so much influence on a person’s decisions that moral responsibility disappears. Some secularist and relativistic schools of thought, on the other hand, see the human mind as all-powerful. For them, not only can we freely determine what we choose to do, we can also freely and independently determine the very nature of good and evil.

Both of those errors shatter the link between freedom and truth, between truth and goodness. If the human person is completely determined by urges and circumstances, then our dignity disappears, as does our capacity for spiritual creativity, friendship, loyalty, love, and any other moral virtue that would give authentic meaning to life. If, on the other hand, the human person is actually divine, unlimited in our capacity to create meaning and truth simply by willing to do so, then every individual becomes, in
essence, a universe unto himself, and the possibility of true communion between persons (human and divine) disappears. In either case, the theoretical divorce between truth and goodness is a lie that, if accepted, makes interior peace, fulfillment, and authentic happiness impossible.

Jesus Believes in Us

Jesus freed us from these lies. In the first place, he acknowledged and accepted the complex influences that contribute to conditioning our freedom in this fallen world. This is why he commanded us not to judge the interior intentions and culpability of other people—we simply cannot know enough to make a full and accurate judgment about a person, even when a particular action is objectively wrong. Only DomenicoFettiTheParableOfTheMoteAndTheBeamGod sees clearly the many circumstantial and subconscious influences that may be at work inside a person’s soul. It is enough for us to seek light regarding our own soul, without trying to manage the souls of others:

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5)

Our Lord, however, never exaggerated the role of external influences. He always believed in us. He always appealed to our spiritual ability to make good choices, to exercise our freedom in harmony with the truth, and in that way to achieve the maturity, wisdom, and holiness that we are created for.

Yet he didn’t fall into the other trap either. He never exaggerated the power of our freedom, exonerating us from the duty to humbly obey the truth. We are called not to be gods, but to love God, and that includes following God’s plan for the human family in general, and for our individual life in particular. This conscious, free obedience to the truth promotes the fulfillment of our highest spiritual potential, and it alone leads to the meaning, fruitfulness, and happiness that will last. His respect for our capacity to do what is right and true, his hope in us, shines through in the finale of the Sermon on the Mount:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. (Matthew 7:24–27)

The True and the Good

The same tone of exhortation fills the pages of the entire New Testament. In Christ, with him and through the gift of his grace, each of us has become “a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As a result, if we remain in the Lord and stay WeinstockAlgunderWaalweg2012-08-10[VineBranches]united to the vine, our collaboration with God’s grace can truly work wonders in us and through us: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

We can learn to love God with all our strength. We can choose to follow Christ and travel the path of spiritual maturity. We can resist temptation and grow in virtue. We can make a difference in the world, building Christ’s kingdom and encouraging others to do the same. If we couldn’t, none of the New Testament letters would have been written, since they all contain passionate encouragement to make practical, daily choices worthy of our Christian calling. If knowing the truth were sufficient for our spiritual growth, and if we were not free to choose to live according to that truth, St. Paul, for example, would never have written this:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry…Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection…And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:5, 12–14, 17)

When our hearts desire God above all things, and our emotions are joyfully subject to an intellect enlightened by faith and a will strengthened and aligned by grace, we can truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, just as Jesus commands.


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.

Art: The Parable of the Mote and the Beam, Domenico Fetti, circa 1619, PD-US; Vine branch on the way “Algunder Waalweg”, Huberbe, 10 August 2012, CC; both 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, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Rose

    Loving God with all our strength means just that. All OUR strength. That is why it makes no difference if we are old and feeble or young and vital. We love God with all the strength we posess. When we are at the end of life and we are feeling our strength ebbing away, it does not mean our ability to love God is also ebbing away. If it did, pretty much everyone would die Godless, on the contrary, we love God with all we have, the incredible strength of faith and surrender in a holy death is so filled with awesome wonder. When the last breath we draw is completely and wholly for God, with God, we enter fully into Grace and Grace into us. That is a happy death!

    To love God with all our strength means to do our duty, moment to moment, for God and in God. All our daily tasks from heroic to mundane are our expression of love for God. That is, if we do them with prayer and thanksgiving and humility in our hearts. Maybe in this very moment we are saving a life, maybe we are making breakfast for our family, maybe we are struggling to lift our hand and press the button that calls the nurse to help us. Done with love and gratitude for God who gave us everything from min?te to miraculous in our lives makes them all equal acts of loving God with all our strength.

    So never worry about our ability to love God with all our strength, remember, He said all OUR strength not all our neighbor’s strength, or all the strength we may once have possessed but now is gone. All our strength moment to moment is all He asks for. It is enough.

    • LizEst

      Beautiful. Thank you, Rose.

    • Benard Chedid

      This post should have been the answer to the reader’s question because the excerpt from Fr. Bartunek’s book completely misses the point the questioner is making.

      • LizEst

        Father Bartunek does answer the question: “Is it really possible to love God with all my strength?” The whole post is a response. And, specifically under the subtitle “The Good and the True” he says, “We can learn to love God with all our strength.” Rather than supplanting it, Rose’s comment adds to what Father is saying. Thank you, Benard, for your comment as well…and God bless you.

  • Lynn Loring

    Reading all of the Spiritual Direction posts and the comments is very encouraging. I am presently seeking a spiritual director, first through prayer and because this has not been granted yet, I feel maybe I am crazy or deceived by vain imaginations when I seek to love God in the ways of the article and what Rose spoke of in the comment below. Yet, I keep growing in this. Pray that God would grant me the great grace of a spiritual director so I can love Him with my whole heart without fear of deception and self imaginations (I have a vivid and active imagination I have to renounce often so as not to be running on my own vanity, so to speak!). Thank you

  • Michael

    Strength can come only from one belief, that is that Jesus Christ is alive and living in each and everyone who accepts Him as their brother, friend, and saviour. This is the core of all catholic belief – that each and every time one receives the Body and Blood of Christ, He recreates, He gives back life, He takes away every damnable sin, He brings Love and says, “I love You!” – the most powerful words ever spoken. But, they are meaningless unless spoken from the sacred heart of Jesus – our supreme brother, friend, and saviour = God.

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