Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ



How deserving Jesus Christ is of our Love, on Account of the Love He has shown us in His Passion.

The whole sanctity and perfection of a soul consists in loving Jesus Christ, our God, our sovereign good, and our Redeemer. Whoever loves me, says Jesus Christ himself, shall be loved by my Eternal Father: My Father loves you because you have loved Me.1 Some, says St. Francis de Sales,2 make perfection consist in an austere life; others in prayer; others in frequenting the Sacraments; others in alms-deeds. But they deceive themselves: perfection consists in loving God with our whole heart. The Apostle wrote: Above all things, . . . have charity, which is the bond of perfection.3 It is charity which keeps united and preserves all the virtues that render a man perfect. Hence St. Augustine said: “Love God, and do whatever you please;”4 because a soul that loves God is taught by that same love never to do anything that will displease him, and to leave nothing undone that may please him.

But perhaps God does not deserve all our love? He has loved us with an everlasting love.5 O man, says the Lord, behold I was the first to love thee. Thou wast not yet in the world, nay, the world itself was not, and I already loved thee. As long as I am God, I loved thee; as long as I have loved myself, I have also loved thee. With good reason, therefore, did St. Agnes, that young holy virgin, reply to those who wished to unite her to an earthly spouse: “I am engaged to another lover.”6 “Go,” said she, “O lovers of this world, cease to sue my love; my God was the first to love me. He has loved me from all eternity: it is but just, then, for me to give him all my affections, and to love none other but him.”

As Almighty God knew that man is won by kindness, he determined to lavish his gifts upon him, and so take captive the affections of his heart. For this reason he said, I will draw them with the cords of Adam, with the bands of love.7 I will catch men by those very snares by which they are naturally caught, that is, by the snares of love. And such exactly are all the favors of God to man. After having given him a soul created in his own image, with memory, understanding, and will, and a body with its senses, he created heaven and earth for him, yes, all that exists, all for the love of man, the firmament, the stars, the planets, the seas, the rivers, the fountains, the hills, the plains, metals, fruits, and a countless variety of animals: and all these creatures that they might minister to the uses of man, and that man might love him in gratitude for so many admirable gifts.

“Heaven and earth, and all things, tell me to love Thee,”8 says St. Augustine. “My Lord,” he said, “whatever I behold on the earth, or above the earth, all speak to me, and exhort me to love Thee; because all assure me that Thou hast made them for the love of me.”

The Abbot de Rancé, founder of La Trappe, when from his hermitage he stood and surveyed the hills, the fountains, the birds, the flowers, the planets, and the skies, felt himself animated by each one of these creatures to love that God who had created all through love to him.

In like manner St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, when she held any beautiful flower in her hand, was enkindled by the sight of it with love to God; and she would say: “And God, then, has thought from all eternity of creating this flower for love of me!” Thus did that flower become, as it were, a dart of love, which sweetly wounded her, and united her more and more to her God.

On the other hand, St. Teresa, at the sight of trees, fountains, rivers, lakes, or meadows, declared that all these fair things upbraided her for her ingratitude in loving so coldly a God who created them that he might be loved by her.

To the like purpose is it related of a pious hermit, that when walking through the country, it seemed to him that the plants and flowers in his path reproached him for the cold return of love he made to God; so that he went along gently striking them with his staff, and saying to them: “Oh, be silent, be silent; you call me an ungrateful wretch; you tell me God has made you for love of me, and yet I do not love him; but now I understand you, be silent, be silent; do not reproach me more.”

But God was not satisfied with giving us so many beautiful creatures. He has gone to such lengths to gain our love, as to give himself to us. The Eternal Father did not hesitate to give us even his only-begotten Son: For God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son.9 When the Eternal Father saw that we were all dead, and deprived of his grace by sin, what did he do? For the immense love, nay, as the Apostle writes, for the too great love he bore us, he sent his beloved Son to make atonement for us; and so to restore to us that life which sin had robbed us of: Who through his exceeding charity with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ.10 And in granting us his Son (not sparing his Son, that he might spare us), he has granted us every good together with him, his grace, his love, and paradise, since assuredly all these gifts are much less than that of his Son: He that spared not even His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also with Him given us all things.11

And so, likewise, the Son, through his love towards us, has given himself wholly to us: Who loved me, and delivered Himself for me.12 In order to redeem us from everlasting death, and to recover for us the divine grace and heaven which we had forfeited, he became man, and put on flesh like our own: And the Word was made flesh.13 Behold, then, a God reduced to nothingness: But emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, . . . and in habit found as a man.14 Behold the sovereign of the world humbling himself so low as to assume the form of a servant, and to subject himself to all the miseries which the rest of men endure.

But what is more astonishing still is, that he could very well have saved us without dying and without suffering at all; but no: he chose a life of sorrow and contempt, and a death of bitterness and ignominy even to the expiring on a cross, the gibbet of infamy, the award of vilest criminals: He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.15 But why, if he could have ransomed us without suffering, why should he choose to die, and to die on a cross? To show us how he loved us. He loved us, and delivered Himself for us.16 He loved us, and because he loved us, he delivered himself up to sorrows, and ignominies, and to a death more cruel than ever any man endured in this world.

Hence that great lover of Jesus Christ, St. Paul, took occasion to say: The charity of Christ presseth us.17 Wishing to show us by these words that it is not so much the sufferings themselves of Jesus Christ as his love in enduring them, that obliges us, and, as it were, constrains us to love him. Let us hear what St. Francis de Sales says on this text: “When we remember that Jesus Christ, true God, has loved us to such an excess as to suffer death, and the death of the cross, for us, our hearts are, as it were, put in a wine-press, and suffer violence, until love be extorted from them, but a violence which, the stronger it is, becomes the more delightful.”18 He then goes on to say, “Ah! why do we not therefore cast ourselves on Jesus crucified, to die on the cross with him, who has chosen to die for love of us? I will hold him (should we say), and I will never let him go; I will die with him, and will be consumed in the flames of his love. One flame shall consume this divine Creator and his miserable creature. My Jesus gives himself unreservedly to me, and I give myself unreservedly to him. I will live and die on his loving breast; neither life nor death shall ever separate me from him. O eternal love, my soul longs after Thee, and makes choice of Thee forever. Come, O Holy Spirit, and inflame our hearts with love. O love, O death, to die to all other loves, to live solely to that of Jesus Christ! O Redeemer of our souls, grant that we may eternally sing, Live, Jesus! I love Jesus; live, Jesus, whom I love! yes, I love Jesus, who reigns for evermore.”19

The love of Jesus Christ towards men created in him a longing desire for the moment of his death, when his love should be fully manifested to them; hence he was wont to say in his lifetime: I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!20 I have to be baptized in my own blood; and how do I feel myself straitened with the desire that the hour of my Passion may soon arrive; for then man will know the love which I bear him! Hence St. John, speaking of that night in which Jesus began his Passion, writes: Jesus knowing that His hour was come, that He should pass out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.21 The Redeemer called that hour His own hour, because the time of his death was the time desired by him; as it was then that he wished to give mankind the last proof of his love, by dying for them upon a cross overwhelmed by sorrows.

But what could have ever induced a God to die as a malefactor upon a cross between two sinners, with such insult to his divine majesty? “Who did this?” asks St. Bernard; he answers, “It was love, careless of its dignity.”22 Ah, love indeed, when it tries to make itself known, does not seek what is becoming to the dignity of the lover, but what will serve best to declare itself to the object loved. St. Francis of Paula therefore had good reason to cry out at the sight of a crucifix, “O charity, O charity, O charity!” And in like manner, when we look upon Jesus on the cross, we should all exclaim, O love, O love, O love!

Ah, if faith had not assured us of it, who could ever have believed that a God, almighty, most happy, and the Lord of all, should have condescended to love man to such an extent that he seems to go out of himself for the love of him? We have seen Wisdom itself, that is the Eternal Word, become foolish through the excessive love he bore to man! So spoke St. Laurence Justinian: “We see Wisdom itself infatuated through excess of love.”23 St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said the same: One day, being in ecstasy, she took a wooden crucifix in her hands, and then cried out: “Yes, my Jesus, Thou art mad with love: I repeat it, and I will say it forever: My Jesus, thou art mad with love.” But no, says St. Denis the Areopagite; “no, it is not madness, but the ordinary effect of divine love, which makes him who loves go out of himself, in order to give himself up entirely to the object of his love: divine love causes ecstasy.”24

Oh, if men would only pause and consider, looking at Jesus on the cross, the love that he has borne each one of them! “With what love,” says St. Francis de Sales, “would not our souls become enkindled at the sight of those flames which are in the Redeemer’s breast! And oh, what happiness, to be able to be consumed by that same fire with which our God burns for us! What joy, to be united to God by the chains of love!” St. Bonaventure called the wounds of Jesus Christ, wounds which pierce the most senseless hearts, and which inflame the most icy souls.25 How many darts of love come forth from those wounds, to wound the hardest hearts! Oh, what flames issue from the burning heart of Jesus Christ to inflame the coldest souls! And chains, how many, from that wounded side, to bind the most stubborn wills!

The Venerable John of Avila, who was so possessed with the love of Jesus Christ that he never failed in any of his sermons to speak of the love which Jesus Christ bears towards us, in a treatise on the love which this most loving Redeemer has for men, has expressed himself in sentiments so full of the fire of devotion, and of such beauty, that I desire to insert them here. He says as follows:

“Thou, O Redeemer, hast loved man in such a manner, that whoso reflects upon this love cannot do less than love Thee; for Thy love offers violence to hearts: as the Apostle says: The charity of Christ presseth us.26 The source of the love of Jesus Christ for men is his love for God. Hence he said on Maunday Thursday, That the world may know that I love the Father, arise, let us go hence.27 But whither? To die for men upon the cross.”

“No human intellect can conceive how strongly this fire burns in the heart of Jesus Christ. As he was commanded to suffer death once, so, had he been commanded to die a thousand times, his love had been sufficient to endure it. And if what he suffered for all men had been imposed upon him for the salvation of one single soul, he would have done the same for each in particular as he did for all. And as he remained three hours upon the cross, so, had it been necessary, his love would have made him remain there even to the day of judgment. So that Jesus Christ loved much more than he suffered. O divine love, how far greater wert thou than thou outwardly seemedst to be; for though so many wounds and bruises tell us of great love, still they do not tell all its greatness. There was far more within than that which appeared externally. That was but as a spark which bounded forth from the vast ocean of infinite love. This is the greatest mark of love, to lay down our life for our friends. But this was not a sufficient mark for Jesus Christ wherewith to express his love.”

“This is the love which causes holy souls to lose themselves, and to stand amazed, when once they have been allowed to know it. From it spring those burning sentiments of ardor, the desire of martyrdom, joy in sufferings, exultation under the storms of distress, the force to walk on burning coals as if they were roses, a thirst for sufferings, rejoicing in that which the world dreads, embracing that which it abhors. St. Ambrose says that the soul which is espoused to Jesus Christ upon the cross, thinks nothing so glorious as to bear upon itself the marks of the crucified one.”

“But how, O my lover, shall I repay this your love! It is right that blood should be compensated by blood. May I behold myself dyed in this blood and nailed to this cross! O holy cross, receive me also! O crown of thorns, enlarge thyself, that I too may place thee on my head! O nails, leave those innocent hands of my Lord, and come and pierce my heart with compassion and with love! For Thou, my Jesus, didst die, as St. Paul says, in order to gain dominion over the living and the dead, not by means of chastisements, but by love:” For to this end Christ died and rose again: that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.28

“O robber of hearts, the strength of Thy love has broken the exceeding hardness of our hearts! Thou hast inflamed the whole world with Thy love. O most loving Lord, inebriate our hearts with this wine, consume them with this fire, pierce them with this dart of Thy love! Thy Cross is indeed an arrow which pierces hearts. May all the world know that my heart is smitten! O sweetest love, what hast Thou done? Thou hast come to heal me, and Thou hast wounded me. Thou hast come to teach me, and Thou hast made me well-nigh mad. O madness full of wisdom, may I never live without you! All, O Lord, that I behold upon the cross invites me to love Thee: the wood, the figure, the wounds of Thy body; and above all, Thy love, engages me to love Thee, and never to forget Thee more.”29

But in order to arrive at the perfect love of Jesus Christ, we must adopt the means. Behold, then, the means which St. Thomas Aquinas gives us:30

1. To have a constant remembrance of the benefits of God, both general and particular.

2. To consider the infinite goodness of God, who is ever waiting to do us good, and who ever loves us, and seeks from us our love.

3. To avoid even the smallest thing that could offend him.

4. To renounce all the sensible goods of this world, riches, honors, and sensual pleasures.

Father Tauler31 says that meditation on the sacred Passion of Jesus Christ is a great means also for acquiring his perfect love.

Who can deny that, of all devotions, devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ is the most useful, the most tender, the most agreeable to God, one that gives the greatest consolation to sinners, and at the same time most powerfully enkindles loving souls? Whence is it that we receive so many blessings, if it be not from the Passion of Jesus Christ? Whence have we hope of pardon, courage against temptations, confidence that we shall go to heaven? Whence are so many lights to know the truth, so many loving calls, so many spurrings to change our life, so many desires to give ourselves up to God, except from the Passion of Jesus Christ? The Apostle therefore had but too great reason to declare him to be excommunicated who did not love Jesus Christ. If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.32

St. Bonaventure says there is no devotion more fitted for sanctifying a soul than meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ; whence he advises us to meditate every day upon the Passion, if we would advance in the love of God. “If you would make progress, meditate daily on the Passion of the Lord; for nothing works such an entire sanctification in the soul, as the meditation of the Passion of Christ.”33 And before him St. Augustine, as Bustis relates, said, that one tear shed in memory of the Passion is worth more than to fast weekly on bread and water for a year.34 Wherefore the saints were always occupied in considering the sorrows of Jesus Christ: it was by this means that St. Francis of Assisi became a seraph. He was one day found by a gentleman shedding tears, and crying out with a loud voice: being asked the cause “I weep,” he answered, “over the sorrows and ignominies of my Lord: and what causes me the greatest sorrow is, that men, for whom he suffered so much, live in forgetfulness of him.” And on saying this he wept the more, so that this gentleman began also himself to weep. When the saint heard the bleating of a lamb, or saw anything which reminded him of the Passion of Jesus, he immediately shed tears. On another occasion, being sick, some one told him to read some pious book. “My book,” he replied, “is Jesus crucified.” Hence he did nothing but exhort his brethren to be ever thinking of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Tiepoli writes: “He who becomes not inflamed with the love of God by looking on Jesus dead upon the cross, will never love at all.”

Affections and Prayers.

O Eternal Word! Thou hast spent three-and-thirty years in labors and fatigues; Thou hast given Thy life and Thy blood for man’s salvation; in short, Thou hast spared nothing to make men love Thee; and how is it possible that there should be those who know this, and yet do not love Thee? O God, amongst these ungrateful ones I also may be numbered! I see the wrong I have done Thee; O my Jesus, have pity upon me! I offer Thee this ungrateful heart ungrateful it is true, but penitent. Yes, I repent above every other evil, O my dear Redeemer, for having despised Thee! I repent, and I am sorry with my whole heart. O my soul, love a God who is bound like a criminal for thee; a God scourged like a slave for thee; a God made a mock-king for thee; a God, in short, dead upon a cross, as the vilest outcast for thee! Yes, my Saviour, my God, I love Thee, I love Thee! Bring continually to my remembrance, I beseech Thee, all that Thou hast suffered for me, so that I may never more forget to love Thee. O cords that bound my Jesus, bind me to Jesus; thorns that crowned my Jesus, pierce me with the love of Jesus; nails that transfixed my Jesus, nail me to the Cross of Jesus, that I may live and die united to Jesus. O blood of Jesus, inebriate me with his holy love! O death of Jesus, make me die to every earthly affection! Pierced feet of my Lord, I embrace you; deliver me from hell, which I have deserved; my Jesus, in hell I could no more love Thee, and yet I desire to love Thee always. Save me, my dearest Saviour; bind me to Thyself, that I may never again lose Thee.

O Mary, refuge of sinners, and Mother of my Saviour! help a sinner who wishes to love God, and who recommends himself to thee; succor me for the love thou bearest to Jesus Christ.

1“Ipse enim Pater amat vos, quia vos me amastis.” – John, xvi. 27.

2Spirit, p. 1, ch. 25.

3“Super omnia, . . . charitatem habete, quod est vinculum perfectionis.” – Col. iii. 14.

4“Ama, et fac quod vis.”

5In charitate perpetua dilexi te.” – Jer. xxxi. 3.

6“Ab alio amatore præventa sum.”

7“In funiculis Adam traham eos, in vinculis charitatis.” – Osee, xi. 4.

8“Cœlum et terra et omnia mihi dicunt, ut te amem.” – Conf. B. 10, c. 6.

9“Sic enim Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium unigenitum daret.” – John, iii. 16.

10“Propter nimiam charitatem suam qua dilexit nos, et cum essemus mortui peccatis, convivificavit nos in Christo.” – Eph. ii. 4.

11“Qui etiam proprio Filio suo non pepercit, sed pro nobis omnibus tradidit ilium: quomodo non etiam cum illo omnia nobis donavit?” – Rom. viii. 32.

12“Dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me.” – Gal. ii. 20.

13“Et Verbum caro factum est.” – John, i. 14.

14“Exinanivit semetipsum formam servi accipiens, . . . et habitu inventus ut homo.” – Phil. ii. 7.

15“Humiliavit semetipsum, factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.” – Phil. ii. 8.

16“Dilexit nos, et tradidit semetipsum pro nobis.” – Eph. v. 2.

17“Charitas Christi urget nos.” – 2 Cor. v. 14.

18Love of God, B. 7, c. 8.

19Love of God, B. 12, c. 13.

20“Baptismo habeo baptizari; et quomodo coarctor usquedum perficiatur!” – Luke, xii. 50.

21“Sciens Jesus quia venit hora ejus, ut transeat ex hoc mundo ad Patrem, cum dilexisset suos, . . . in finem dilexit eos.” – John, xiii. 1.

22“Quis hoc fecit? Fecit amor, dignitatis nescius.” – In Cant. s. 61.

23“Vidimus Sapientiam amoris nimietate infatuatam.” – Serm. de Nat. D.

24“Extasim facit divinus amor.” – De Div. Nom. c. 4.

25“Vulnera, corda saxea vulnerantia, et mentes congelatas inflammantia.” – Stim. div. am. p. 1, c. 1.

26“Charitas Christi urget nos.” – 2 Cor. v. 14.

27“Ut cognoscat mundus quia diligo Patrem, . . . surgite, eamus.” – John, xiv. 31.

28“In hoc enim Christus mortuus est et resurrexit, ut et mortuorum et vivorum dominetur.” – Rom. xiv. 9.

29Disc, on the Love of God.

30De Duob. Præc. c. 4.

31Epist. 20.

32“Si quis non amat Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, sit anathema.” – 1 Cor. xvi. 22.

33“Si vis proficere, quotidie mediteris Domini passionem; nihil enim in anima ita operatur universalem sanctimoniam, sicut meditatio passionis Christi.”

34“Magis meretur vel unam lacrymam emittens ob memoriam passionis Christi, quam si qualibet anni hebdomada in pane et aqua jejunaret.” – Rosar. p. 2, s. 15.

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