Why, not What

In a 2009 TED talk, Simon Sinek posed an interesting question: Why are some people able to inspire others? The answer is that great leaders know why they do what they do.

This talk made me think about God. Saint Augustine asked, "What do you love when you love your God?" The Franciscan spin on that question is "How do we love when we love our God?" Now I'm beginning to wonder, "Why do we love when we love our God?"

What do I love when I love my God? When I ask this question, I think about the nature of the Trinity or ontological arguments for the existence of God. I end up trying to prove that what I believe about God is orthodox and that other beliefs or formulations, if not heretical, are misinformed. My answers always lead me into a world where I like to judge others.

How do I love when I love my God? When I ask this question, I move from the world of judgment and enter a world of mercy. Questions about the nature of God become less important. What really matters is that I imitate God's compassion. I care less, for example, about the meaning of transubstantiation and care more about how the Eucharist transforms me into the Body of Christ.

Why do I love when I love God? This is the world of contemplation. When I ponder this question, I have to let go of my pretenses and my assumptions. I abandon my hubris in thinking that I can know anything about God. I grow detached from the what of God and even the how of God. I am content to simply be in God's presence. And this is the world from which I can, in the words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, "go forth and set the world on fire."

I spent the past few days in this world, and it was very unsettling. I could not answer the question. My first answer--"I love because God loved me first"--didn't satisfy me. It seemed too much like an appeal to authority (see Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-14, or Colossians 1:10-20). I might as well have just sung "Jesus loves me, yes I know, 'cuz the Bible tells me so." This question deserved a more thoughtful response than a song I learned in Sunday school.

I was stumped. I felt like I was staring into a blank piece of paper, except that sheet of was completely empty of all substance. I was  staring into nothingness.

The answer came as I meditated on this Gospel passage:

Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom* all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear. (Matthew 13:36-43)

I saw myself as the field, and both weeds and flowers sprouted from me. And at that point, I realized that God sees the flowers among my weeds, even if I can't and others don't.

That's why I love when I love my God. Loving God allows me to see the best in myself and the best in other people. Why do I love when I love God? Because that allows me to affirm the dignity of others with compassion and love.


People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
— Simon Sisek