Love is strong as death.1 As death separates us from all the good things of the world, from riches, honours, kindred, friends, and all earthly pleasures, so the love of God, when it reigns in a heart, strips it of all affection for these perishing advantages. Therefore the saints have thought fit to strip themselves of everything the world offered them, to renounce their possessions, their posts of honour, and all they had, and to fly to deserts or cloisters, to think upon and to love God alone.
The soul cannot exist without loving either the Creator or its creatures. Grant that a soul is weaned from every other love, and you will find it filled with love divine. Would we know whether we have given ourselves wholly to God? Let us examine ourselves whether we are weaned from every earthly thing.
Some persons lament that in all their devotions, prayers, communions, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, they do not find God. To such St. Teresa says, “Detach thy heart from creatures, and then go seek God, and thou shalt find him.” Thou wilt not find a continual spiritual sweetness which God does not give without interruption to those who love him in this life, but only from time to time, to make them fly onwards towards those boundless delights which he prepares for them in paradise; but yet he gives them that inward peace which excels all sensual delights; that peace of God which passes all sense.2 And what greater delight can be enjoyed by a soul that loves God than to be able to say, with true affection, “My God and my all?” St. Francis of Assisi continued a whole night in an ecstasy of paradise, continually repeating these words, “ My God and my all.”
“Love is as strong as death.” If a dying man were to give a sign of moving towards any earthly thing, we should then know that he was not dead; death deprives us of everything. He that would give himself altogether to God must leave everything. If he reserves any one thing, he gives a sign that his love for God is not strong, but weak.
Divine love strips us of everything. Father Segneri, the. younger, an eminent servant of God (whose life was written by Muratori), said: “Love to God is a beloved thief, which robs us of every earthly thing.” Another servant of God, when he had given to the poor all his possessions, and was asked what had reduced him to such poverty, took the book of the Gospels out of his pocket, and said, “This has robbed me of everything.” In a word, Jesus Christ will possess our whole heart, and he will have no companion there. St. Augustine writes that the Roman senate refused to allow adoration to be paid to Jesus Christ because he was a haughty God who claimed to be honoured alone; and truly as he is our only Lord, he has the right to be adored and loved with our unmingled love.
St, Francis de Sales said that the pure love of God consumes everything that is not God. When, then, we see in our heart any affection for anything that is not God, or not for the sake of God, we must instantly banish it, saying, “Depart, there is no place for thee.” In this consists that complete renunciation which our Lord recommends, if we would be wholly his. It must be complete; that is, of everything, and especially of our friends and kindred. How many, for the sake of men, have never become saints! David said that they who please men are despised by God.3
But, above all, we must renounce ourselves by conquering self-love. Cursed is self-love, which thrusts itself into everything, even our most holy actions, by placing before us our own love of pleasure! How many preachers, how many writers, have thus lost all their labours! Constantly, even in prayer, in spiritual reading, in the Holy Communion, there enters some end not pure, either the desire of being noticed, or of obtaining mere spiritual pleasures. We must, therefore, strive to conquer this enemy, who would ruin our best deeds. We must deprive ourselves, as far as possible, of everything that pleases us; we must deprive ourselves of this pleasure, for the very reason that it is agreeable; we must do a service to this ungrateful person, because he is ungrateful; we must take this bitter medicine, because it is bitter. Self-love makes it appear that nothing is good in which we do not find our own personal satisfaction; but he that would wholly belong to God must do force to himself whenever he is employed in anything that is according to his own pleasure, and say always, “Let me lose everything, so that I please God.”
For the rest, no one is more contented with the world than he who despises all the good things of the world. The more he strips himself of such good things, the richer he becomes in divine grace. Thus does the Lord know how to reward those who love him faithfully. But, O my Jesus! Thou knowest my weakness; Thou hast promised to help those who trust in Thee. Lord, I love Thee; in Thee I trust; give me strength, and make me wholly Thine. In thee also I trust, O my sweet advocate, Mary!
1“Fortis est ut mors dilectio.” -- Cant. viii. 6.
2“Pax Dei, quae exsuperat omnem sensum.” -- Phil. iv. 7.
3“Qui hominibus placent, confusi sunt, quoniam Deus sprevit eos.” -- Ps. lii. 6.