Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ (Intro. part IV)


How much we are obliged to love Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ as God has a claim on all our love; but by the love which he has shown us, he wished to put us, so to speak, under the necessity of loving him, at least in gratitude for all that he has done and suffered for us. He has greatly loved us, that we might love him greatly. “Why does God love us, but that he may be loved?”1 wrote St. Bernard. And Moses had said the same before him: And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but that thou fear the Lord thy God . . . and love Him?2 Therefore the first command which he gave us was this; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with Thy whole heart.3 And St. Paul says, that love is the fulfilling of the law: Love is the fulfilling of the law.4 For “fulfilling” the Greek text has the “embracing of the law;”5 love embraces the entire law.

Who. indeed, at the sight of a crucified God dying for our love can refuse to love him? Those thorns, those nails, that cross, those wounds, and that blood, call upon us, and irresistibly urge us, to love him who has loved us so much. One heart is too little wherewith to love this God so enamoured of us. In order to requite the love of Jesus Christ, it would require another God to die for his love. “Ah, why,” exclaims St. Francis de Sales, “do we not throw ourselves on Jesus Christ, to die on the cross with him who was pleased to die there for the love of us?”6 The Apostle clearly impresses on us that Jesus Christ died for us for this end, that we might no longer live for ourselves, but solely for that God who died for us: Christ died for all, that they also who live may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them.7

And the recommendation of Ecclesiasticus is here in point: Forget not the kindness of thy surety; for He hath given His life for thee.8 Be not unmindful of him who has stood surety for thee; who, to satisfy for thy sins, was willing to pay off, by his death, the debt of punishment due from thee. Oh, how desirous is Jesus Christ that we should continually remember his Passion! and how it saddens him to see that we are so unmindful of it! Should a person endure for one of his friends affronts, blows, and imprisonment, how afflicting would it be for him to know that that friend afterwards never gave it a thought, and cared not even to hear it spoken of! On the contrary, how gratified would he be to know that his friend constantly spoke of it with the warmest gratitude, and often thanked him for it. So it is pleasing to Jesus Christ when we preserve in our minds a grateful and loving recollection of the sorrows and death which he underwent for us. Jesus Christ was the desire of all the ancient Fathers; he was the desire of all nations before he was yet come upon earth. Now, how much more ought he to be our only desire and our only love, now that we know that he is really come, and are aware how much he has done and suffered for us, so that he even died upon the cross for love of us!

For this purpose he instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist on the day preceding his death, and gave us the injunction, that as often as we should be nourished with his most sacred flesh, we should be mindful of his death: Take ye, and eat; this is My body. . . . This do for a commemoration of Me, etc. For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord until He come.9 Wherefore the holy Church prays: “O God! who under this wonderful Sacrament hast left us a memorial of Thy Passion,”10 etc. And she also sings: “O sacred banquet, in which Christ is taken, the memory of his Passion is renewed,”11 etc. Hence we may gather how pleasing to Jesus Christ are they who think frequently of his Passion, since it was for this very purpose that he left himself in the holy Sacrament upon our altars, in order that we might bear in continual and grateful remembrance all that he suffered for us, and by this means evermore increase our love towards him. St. Francis de Sales called Mount Calvary “the mountain of lovers.” It is impossible to remember that mount and not love Jesus Christ, who died there for love of us.

O God! and how is it that men do not love this God who has done so much to be loved by men! Before the Incarnation of the Word, man might have doubted whether God loved him with a true love; but after the coming of the Son of God, and after his dying for the love of men, how can we possibly doubt of his love? “O man,” says St. Thomas of Villanova, “look on that cross, on those torments, and that cruel death, which Jesus Christ has suffered for thee: after so great and so many tokens of his love, thou canst no longer entertain a doubt that he loves thee, and loves thee exceedingly.” And St. Bernard says, that “the cross and every wound of our Blessed Redeemer cry aloud to make us understand the love he bears us.”12

In this grand mystery of man’s redemption, we must consider how Jesus employed all his thoughts and zeal to discover every means of making himself loved by us. Had he merely wished to die for our salvation, it would have been sufficient had he been slain by Herod with the other children; but no, he chose before dying to lead, during thirty-three years, a life of hardship and suffering; and during that time, with a view to win our love, he appeared in several different guises. First of all, as a poor child born in a stable; then as a little boy helping in the workshop; and finally, as a criminal executed on a cross. But before dying on the cross, we see him in many different states, one and all calculated to excite our compassion, and to make himself loved: in agony in the garden, bathed from head to foot in a sweat of blood; afterwards, in the court of Pilate, torn with scourges; then treated as a mock-king, with a reed in his hand, a ragged garment of purple on his shoulders, and a crown of thorns on his head; then dragged publicly through the streets to death, with the cross upon his shoulders; and at length, on the hill of Calvary, suspended on the cross by three iron nails. Tell me, does he merit our love or not, this God who has vouchsafed to endure all these torments, and to use so many means in order to captivate our love? Father John Rigouleux used to say: “I would spend my life in weeping for love of a God whose love induced him to die for the salvation of men.”

“Love is a great thing,”13 says St. Bernard. A great thing, a precious thing is love. Solomon, speaking of the divine wisdom, which is holy charity, called it an infinite treasure; because he that possesses charity is made partaker of the friendship of God: For she is an infinite treasure to men, which they that use become the friends of God.14 The angelic Doctor, St. Thomas, says, that charity is not only the queen of all virtues, but that, wherever she reigns, she draws along with her, as it were, in her train, all other virtues, and directs them all so as to bring us in closer union with God; but charity is properly that which unites us with God. As St. Bernard tells us: “Charity is a virtue uniting us with God.”15 And, indeed, it is over and over again signified in the holy Scriptures, that God loves whoever loves him: I love them that love Me.16 If any one loves me . . . My Father will love Him; and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him.17 He that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him.18 Behold the beautiful union which charity produces; it unites the soul to God. Moreover, love supplies strength to practise and to suffer everything for God: Love is strong as death.19 St. Augustine writes: “Nothing is so hard that cannot be subdued by the fire of love.”20 Wherefore the saint says, that where we love, either the labor is not felt, or if felt, the labor itself is loved: “In that which is loved, either there is no labor, or the labor is loved.”21

Let us hear from St. John Chrysostom what are the effects of divine love in those souls in which it reigns: “When the love of God has taken possession of a soul, it produces an insatiable desire to work for the beloved; insomuch that however many and however vast the works which she does, and however prolonged the duration of her service, all seems nothing in her eyes, and she is afflicted at doing so little for God; and were it permitted her to die and consume herself for him, she would be most happy. Hence it is that she esteems herself an unprofitable servant in all that she does; because she is instructed by love to know what God deserves, and sees by this clear light all the defects of her actions, and finds in them motives for confusion and pain, well aware how mean is all that she can do for so great a Lord.”

“Oh! how those persons delude themselves,” says St. Francis de Sales, “who place virtue in anything else but in loving God! Some,” writes the saint, “put perfection in austerities, others in alms, others in prayer, others in frequenting the holy sacraments. For my part, I know of no other perfection than that of loving God with our whole heart; because all the other virtues, without love, are but a mere heap of stones. And if we do not perfectly enjoy this holy love, the fault lies with us, because we do not, once for all, come to the conclusion of giving up ourselves wholly to God.”22

Our Lord said one day to St. Teresa, “Everything which does not give pleasure to me is vanity.” Would that all understood well this great truth! For the rest, one thing is necessary.23 It is not necessary to be rich in this world, to gain the esteem of others, to lead a life of ease, to enjoy dignities, to have a reputation for learning; it is only necessary to love God and to do his will. For this single end has he created us, for this he preserves our life; and thus only can we gain admittance into Paradise. Put me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm.24 The Lord thus speaks to all his espoused souls. Put me as a seal upon thy heart and upon thine arm, in order that all thy desires and actions may tend to me; upon thy heart, that no other love but mine may enter there upon thine arm, in order that all thou dost may have me for its sole object. Oh, how quickly does that soul speed onwards to perfection, that in all its actions regards but Jesus crucified, and has no other pretension than to gratify him!

To acquire, then, a true love of Jesus Christ should be our only care. The masters of spiritual life describe the marks of true love. Love, say they, is fearful, and its fear is none other than that of displeasing God. It is generous, because, trusting in God, it is never daunted even at the greatest enterprises for his glory, It is strong, because it subdues all its evil appetites, even in the midst of the most violent temptations, and of the darkest desolations. It is obedient, because it immediately flies to execute the divine will. It is pure, because it loves God alone, and for the sole reason that he deserves to be loved. It is ardent, because it would inflame all mankind, and willingly see them consumed with divine love. It is inebriating, for it causes the soul to live as it were out of itself, as if it no longer saw, nor felt, nor had any more senses left for earthly things, bent wholly on loving God. It is unitive, by producing a strict union between the will of the creature and the will of the Creator. It is longing, for it fills the soul with desires of leaving this world, to fly and unite itself perfectly with God in its true and happy country, where it may love him with all its strength.

But no one teaches us so well the real characteristics and practice of charity as the great preacher of charity, St. Paul. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, he says, in the first place, that without charity man is nothing, and that nothing profits him: If I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing, And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.25 So that even should a person have faith strong enough to remove mountains, like St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, but had not charity, it would profit him nothing. Should he give all his goods to the poor, and even willingly suffer martyrdom, but remain void of charity, should he do it, that is, for any other end than that of pleasing God, it would profit him nothing at all. Then St. Paul gives us the marks of true charity, and at the same time teaches us the practice of those virtues which are the daughters of charity; and he goes on to say: Charity is patient, is kind; charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up, is not ambitious; seeketh not her own; is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.26

Let us therefore, in the present book, proceed to consider these holy practices, that we may thus see if the love which we owe to Jesus Christ truly reigns within us; as likewise that we may understand in what virtues we should chiefly exercise ourselves, in order to persevere and advance in this holy love.

Affections and Prayers.

O most lovely and most loving Heart of Jesus, miserable is the heart which does not love Thee! O God, for the love of men Thou didst die on the cross, helpless and forsaken, and how then can men live so forgetful of Thee? O love of God! O ingratitude of man! O men, O men! do but cast one look on the innocent Son of God, agonizing on the cross, and dying for you, in order to satisfy the divine justice for your sins, and by this means to allure you to love him. Observe how, at the same time, he prays his eternal Father to forgive you. Behold him, and love him. Ah, my Jesus, how small is the number of those that love Thee! Wretched too am I; for I also have lived so many years unmindful of Thee, and have grievously offended Thee, my beloved Redeemer! It is not so much the punishment I have deserved that makes me weep, as the love which Thou hast borne me. O sorrows of Jesus! O ignominies of Jesus! O wounds of Jesus! O death of Jesus! O love of Jesus! rest deeply engraved in my heart, and may your sweet recollection be forever fixed there, to wound me and inflame me continually with love. I love Thee, my Jesus; I love Thee, my sovereign good; I love Thee, my love and my all; I love Thee, and I will love Thee forever. Oh, suffer me never more to forsake Thee, never more to lose Thee! Make me entirely Thine; do so by the merits of Thy death. In this I firmly trust.

And I have a great confidence also in thy intercession, O Mary, my Queen; make me love Jesus Christ and make me also love thee, my Mother and my hope!

Si quis non amat Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, sit anathema!”

“If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema!” – 1 Cor. xvi. 22.

Charitas patiens est, benigna est; charitas non æmulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur, non est ambitiosa, non qtuærit quæ sua sunt, non irritatur; non cogitat malum, non gaudet super iniquitate, congaudet autem veritati; omnia suffert, omnia credit, omnia sperat, omnia sustinet.”

“Charity is patient, is kind; charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger; thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things.” – 1 Cor. xiii. 4-7.

1“Non ad aliud amat, nisi ut ametur.” – In Cant. s. 83.

2“Et nunc, Israel, quid Dominus Deus tuus petit a te, nisi ut timeas Dominum Deum tuum, . . . et diligas eum? – Deut. x. 12.

3“Diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo.” – Deut. vi. 5.

4“Plenitude legis est dilectio.” – Rom. xiii. 10.

5“Completio legis.”

6Love of God, B. 7, ch. 8.

7“Pro omnibus mortuus est Christus, ut et qui vivunt, jam non sibi vivant, sed ei qui pro ipsis mortuus est.” – 2 Cor. v. 15.

8“Gratiam fidejussoris ne obliviscaris; dedit enim pro te animam suam.” – Ecclus. xxix, 20.

9“Accipite et manducate; hoc est corpus meum: . . . hoc facite in meam commemorationem. . . . Quotiescumque enim manducabitis panem hunc, . . . mortem Domini annuntiabitis.” – 1 Cor. xi. 24.

10“Deus qui nobis sub Sacramento mirabili passionis tuæ memoriam reliquisti. . . .”

11“O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, recolitur memoria passionis ejus! . . .”

12“Testis crux, testes dolores, testis amara mors quam pro te sustinuit.” – Dom. 17 p. Pent. conc. 3.

13“Magna res amor.” – In Cant. s. 83.

14“Infinitus enim thesaurus est hominibus, quo qui usi sunt, participes facti sunt amicitiæ Dei.” – Wisd. vii. 14.

15“Charitas est virtus conjungens nos Deo.”

16“Ego diligentes me diligo.” – Prov. viii. 17.

17“Si quis diligit me, . . . Pater meus diliget eum, et ad eum veniemus, et mansionem apud eum faciemus.” – John, xiv. 23.

18“Qui manet in charitate, in Deo manet, et Deus in eo.” – 1 John, iv. 16.

19“Fortis est ut mors dilectio.” – Cant. viii. 6.

20“Nihil tam durum, quod amoris igne non vincatur.” – De Mor. Eccl. cat. c. 22.

21“In eo quod amatur, aut non laboratur, aut et labor amatur.” – De Bono vid. c. 21.

22Spirit, p. I, ch. 25.

23“Porro unum est necessarium.” – Luke, x. 42.

24“Pone me ut signaculum super cor tuum, ut signaculum super brachium tuum.” – Cant. viii. 6.

25“Et si habuero omnem fidem, ita ut montes transferam, charitatem autem non habuero, nihil sum. Et si distribuero in cibos pauperum omnes facilitates meas; et si tradidero corpus meum, ita ut ardeam, charitatem autem non habuero, nihil mihi prodest.” – 1 Cor. xiii. 2, 3.

26“Charitas patiens est, benigna est; charitas non æmulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur, non est ambitiosa, non quærit quæ sua sunt, non irritatur; non cogitat malum, non gaudet super iniquitate, congaudet autem veritati; omnia suffert, omnia credit, omnia sperat, omnia sustinet.” – 1 Cor. xiii. 4-7.

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