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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Invitation to Love: A Personal Retreat on the Great Commandment

Updated: May 30

by William Barry, SJ

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

The poem of St. Anselm of Canterbury appropriately begins this book:

“Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I see: For unless you instruct me I cannot seek you,

 and unless you reveal yourself I cannot find you. Let me seek you in desiring you: let me desire you in seeking you.

Let me find you in loving you: let me love you in finding you.”


Part 1 states that “Love is the Foundation” and our Holy Father the Pope has reiterated that for over a decade. Barry states “I can think of nothing more important for us human beings to do in such perilous times than to love God and our neighbors.” Barry states the fact that many countries are involved in seemingly unresolvable political, racial, economic and ecological conflicts.  Looking toward the Bible as the dream for his good creation. God creates the world for a purpose and human beings as God’s image in this world and thus cooperate with God and His purpose or dream. The Bible is the story of God’s effort to get us to live as human beings that is, as images of God. The book is to assist people in living God’s dream and thus become part of the solution to our world’s seemingly insoluble difficulties instead of part of the problem. We are invited by God to transform this world, to help God bring about what Jesus called the kingdom of God. So your focus of reading this book is that you want to love God and neighbor better and so may be interested in trying out ways to grow in these loves and this better more a part of God’s solution for our world. At the end of the first prayer session, Barry, calls us to sit quietly and consider this: God is looking at you with divine love and waits for you to be aware of God’s presence. Read the following Scripture verse two or three times and note your reaction to it. “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. “ Genesis 1:27. He asks us to talk with God or write in your journal—about how these words affect your thoughts and emotions.


The prayer sessions 5-7 in Part 2 are sessions of themes from the Old Testament.  Barry sets a pattern that makes sense to all believers. He creates a new lens to see the Bible stories from a different perspective. In Part 3, Barry focuses on the humility of God. Part 4 focuses on loving God in Jesus.  Part for is focused on a contemplation for attaining love for God. The book takes us from the focus on our own individual understanding of God in our life to the understanding of community and finally the global Church. In the last section on discernment Barry  present the rules. The first rule is that youu look at your ordinary orientation with regard to God and to your life as a Christian. Do you try to lead a good Christian life insofar as possible? Or are you someone who cuts corners with regard to your Christian life? As an example of the latter, think of a landlord who gouges his tenants and provides few service to make their living even halfway decent.  Suppose that he were to try to engage in a session of prayer. What do you think would happen? Probably he would begin to feel the pangs of conscience as he realized how good God has been to him. The second rule follows from the first.  God wants us to be happy and fulfilled.  But the only way we can be happy and fulfilled  is to be in tune with God’s desire for the world and for us. For those who try to live a good life in tune with God’s intention, consolation is the order of the day for the most part. As a result of these two rules we can define spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation along Ignatian lines.  Spiritual consolation is, obviously something positive that is experienced Spiritual consolation is, obviously, something positive that is experienced.  Spiritual consolation refers to any experience of desire for God, of distaste for one’ past sins, of sympathy for Jesus or for any other suffering person. It leaves the soul quiet and at peace in her Creator and Lord.  Spiritual desolation is the contrary of spiritual consolation. It does not come from God. In the time of spiritual desolation, it is not a good time to make any great decisions about your life’s course. We should beg God for patience and for some light s to the causes of the desolation. Be grateful to God for consolation that you are happy because God has been good enough to draw you to a deeper union and to living out God’s intention for you.  This is a book that comforts your heart and should help you to get there!

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