“I love thee Jesus, my love, I repent for having offended thee. Grant that I may always love thee; then do with me what thou wilt.”
Strange how this prayer keeps coming back to me these days as I get used to the reality that I have Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I haven’t thought about this prayer for years. When I was a lad, every Friday during Lent, I was an altar boy for the Stations of the Cross. As we moved from station to station, recalling specific events in the passion and death of Jesus, everyone would say this prayer.
As a young adult, I put it away in a far corner of my brain. Why? Maybe it’s because as a straight guy, I was defensive about calling Jesus “my love.” Maybe it’s because the language is archaic. I don’t like translations of the Bible that use words like “thee” and “wilt.” Maybe it’s because I moved to more spontaneous prayer.
All I know is that it is back. And it feels comfortable, like a reunion with an old friend.
I have prayed at the death bed of some friends recently. I usually start with a spontaneous prayer and conclude with rote prayers like the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Hail Mary.” The tears come when we say rote prayers together. There is something grounding and profound about them.
Often during my life, I would say with a certain poignancy the concluding phrase of the “Hail Mary.” It concludes, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” I would wonder when are those two moments going to be the same moment. They feel as close as they have ever been now. And I expect Mary to be there. I can’t imagine she would deny my years of asking.
Another thought coming back to me is a catechism answer memorized in the second grade. “Why did God make me? God made me to know, love and serve him in this life and be happy with him in the next.” As a young adult, I criticized the answer. It certainly included the first of the two great commandments, loving God above all. But where is the second commandment about loving your neighbor as yourself?
Also, why isn’t there a previous part to this answer? Namely, God made me because God wanted me to be loved and known by him. It all begins with God’s love, not my response. At that point, our religion teacher could have moved the focus to Jesus, and how Jesus makes this love real. But it didn’t happen. We continued to memorize more catechism answers.
Now I am less critical. The memorized answer is a decent start for a second grader. Later, we learned about loving our neighbor as ourselves, and that God first loved us. In fact, I am still trying to learn both loving my neighbor and rejoicing that God loved me first.
I updated my answer to this big question of why I am here when I made a 30-day retreat with the Spiritual Exercises of Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius. Before we prayed about the story of Jesus in concert with our story, we pray about the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises. We needed to own this before we continued. It is a more sophisticated answer to the question, “Why did God make me?”
St. Ignatius wrote in Latin. I especially like this contemporary translation:
“The goal of life is to be with God forever. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life with God.”
I am reminded of what young couples say at their wedding. They state words such as, “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health.” What they are often thinking is “for better, richer, health.” When “worse, poorer or sickness” come, some relationships collapse. They really didn’t expect that part.
I had the blessing of praying about the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises for a whole week. Now I will find out if I really own the entire statement. I pray it every day, so I don’t send it to a far corner of my brain.
I am also more comfortable praying “I love thee, Jesus, my love... Grant that I may always love thee; then do with me what thou wilt.” This prayer is like an old friend.
Vince Hatt has been a spiritual director for over 40 years. He has a master’s degree in religious education from Catholic University and a master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute.