Why is it easier to love your pet dog than to love a cockroach skittering across the floor? It’s all a matter of relating. Call your dog to your side, and with happily wagging tail, Fido will eagerly approach you, always eager to enjoy your friendly petting. The cockroach, on the other hand, is neither approaching nor approachable.
The dog and the cockroach have several things in common, however. First, they both regard you as a living reality, although one regards you as a safe person and the other as a threatening person. Second, they both have a sense of expectancy in relating to you, although one by way of goodwill, the other by way of fear. Third, they both have an implicit awareness of your power, although one is aware of your power to please, the other of your power to harm. The three qualities, terms of interaction, are all positive in the dog but negative in the cockroach. The result is that the dog relates to you by way of trust, the cockroach by way of distrust.
Notice that the presence or absence of trust is equated with the presence or absence of love in the human-to-animal relationship. (Hence the proverbial encomium of a dog as “man’s best friend.”) The dog is lovable because it is trusting of a kindly master. Why does the dog trust? Essentially it is because it perceives its master as benevolent—a benevolent person with benevolent power, expressed in benevolent action. That is to say, the dog makes it easy for the master to love him, reciprocally, because he perceives the master as a loving person who manifests his love-activated power in loving action.
The analogy is evident when the topic of study is our spiritual life. Loving God as our divine Master is the quintessence of the spiritual life—that is, holiness. It has as its prerequisites that by our faith we accept God as a benevolent (loving and lovable) person with benevolent (love-activated) power, expressed in benevolent action (his loving providence as it relates to us). The immediate outcropping of this trilogy in its fullest expression is trust. Trust in God is not the essence of holiness; love is the essence of holiness (see 1 Jn 4:16). Yet the trust that results from our love for God is the criterion for our holiness, and the ultimate sign of its authenticity. The more we love, the more we trust, and conversely, the more we trust, the more we love. This holds true in all of our relationships with God—even when he is disappointed in us.
Recently I saw a man throw a stick at his neighbor’s dog to stop him from messing up the flowerbed. Yet the man’s heart melted when the dog gleefully picked up the stick in his mouth and, with wagging tail, brought it back to the man, dropping it at his feet, where he eagerly and playfully waited for the next throw of the stick. The dog’s trust, in its naiveté, was undisturbed by the man’s displeasure—so much so, in fact, that it dispelled that displeasure. In the face of God’s displeasure when our pursuit of holiness is retarded by sin, our trust in him and his merciful love dissolves his wrath, as the dog’s trust melted the annoyance of the man in the garden. With this, the Lord accepts us again into his warm and loving friendship, assuring us that our faltering holiness has been restored, for “the law of the Lord revives the soul” (Ps 19:7).
Just as love has many forms of expression, including consideration, gift giving, hugging, kissing, and so on, so also is trust multifaceted in its manifestations. In my book, Pathways of Trust, I have attempted to delineate 101 ways of practicing trust in God [and I will share these suggestions in future articles on Catholic365.com]. God’s generosity is reminiscent of the ice cream stores that feature a wide variety of ice cream. The variegations of the virtue of trust are just another of the many ways that God’s goodness is reflected. They provide us with a multitude of ways to grow in holiness--a variety of paths that lead to union with our Creator. They are some of the many graces he has promised to bestow on us to help us enjoy a superabundant spiritual life (see Jn 10:10). Let us enjoy them with zest!
This excerpt is from the book Pathways of Trust, by John H. Hampsch,C.M.F., originally published by Servant Publications. It and other of Fr. Hampsch's books and tapes can be purchased from Claretian Teaching Ministry, 20610 Manhattan Pl, #120, Torrance, CA 90501-1863. Phone 1-310-782-6408.