III. THE PRECEPT OF THE LOVE OF GOD
Man is so constituted by nature that he takes delight in what he recognizes as good and beautiful. This delight, and the desire to attain it, is called love. Thus we see love to be an act of the understanding, the affections, and the will.
1. We ought to love God (1), because Christ commands this; (2), because He is in Himself essentially the highest beauty and sovereign perfection; (3), because He loves us and continually bestows benefits upon us.
Christ commands us to love God, for He says: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength” (Mark xii. 30). God is the most beautiful of all beings, for if earthly beings are so beautiful, how much greater must be the beauty of God, Who is the Creator of all these things! (Wisd. xiii. 3.) For one cannot give to another what one has not got one’s self, consequently God must possess in Himself all the perfections in their highest degree which we admire in His creatures. God has manifested His love towards us chiefly in this, that He sent His only-begotten Son to earth for our salvation. Christ Himself says: “God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son” (John iii. 16). He did not send Him to live on earth in regal state, but as a lowly servant; not to live and die as an ordinary man, but to live a life of privation and persecution and to die the death of the cross. God gave His well-beloved Son. The fewer children parents have, the more fondly do they generally love them, and they dote upon an only child. How intense must have been the love of God for His only-begotten Son, yet He gave Him for our redemption!”Thou didst deliver up the Son, O Lord,” exclaims St. Augustine, “to save the servant!” Thus St. John admonishes us: “Let us love God, because God first hath loved us” (1 John iv. 19). Moreover God continually bestows benefits upon us; all in which we take pleasure comes from Him. Life, health, our daily bread, the clothes we wear, the roof that shelters us, all are His gifts. “Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. i. 17). “What hast thou, O man, that thou hast not received?” (1 Cor. iv. 17.) The uninterrupted possession of these blessings has unfortunately the effect of making us think light of them. It were well for us therefore to contemplate the lot of those who are deprived of them, e.g., the blind, the sick, the destitute; we should then see how favored we are in comparison with these afflicted ones, and our love of God would become greater. Children love those to whom they owe their being, and so in a certain measure do the brute beasts. He, therefore, who does not love his Creator is worse than the brutes. The very fact that we owe our existence to God lays us under the obligation of loving Him above all things.
2. Our love of God is chiefly manifested by thinking of Him constantly, by avoiding whatever might separate us from Him, by laboring to promote His glory, and willingly accepting all that comes from His hand.
It is an error to imagine that the love of God is merely affective, a certain delight or joy we experience in God. It is rather an act of the understanding and of the will. Man recognizes God to be the supreme Good, and esteems Him above all creatures. This esteem causes him to strive to attain to the possession of this sovereign Good, by avoiding sin and leading a godly life. The love of God shows itself more in deeds than in feelings. The love of God is called a holy or supernatural love. It is to be distinguished from purely natural affection, such as that of a parent for his child, as well as from sensual affection, which chiefly regards the body.
1. He who loves God thinks of Him continually, delights in speaking of Him, and of hearing others talk of Him.
Love consists in striving after something, in order to be united to it. Hence it comes that one’s thoughts dwell incessantly with the object of our affections. “Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matt. vi. 21). He who truly loves God performs all his actions with the good intention of giving Him glory. So the course of a ship may be directed towards different points of the compass, yet the magnetic needle always points to the North. He who loves God utters ejaculatory prayers amid all his occupations, such as these: “Jesus, my God, I love Thee above all things”; “All to the greater glory of God”; “My God and my all.” “The time,” says St. Bernard, “in which we do not think of God, is time lost.” He who loves God delights in talking of divine things. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. xii. 34). He also loves to hear others speak of God: “He that is of God, heareth the words of God” (John viii. 47).
2. He who loves God avoids sin, and does not allow his heart to cling to the possessions and joys of earth.
He who loves God flies from sin because sin separates him from God. Our Lord says: “If any man love Me, he will keep My word” (John xiv. 23). He who loves God is afraid of offending Him, rather than of His chastisements; for where love is, there is no chastisement to be dreaded. “Perfect charity casteth out fear” (1 John iv. 18). One who is inflamed with the love of God lays aside all desire for earthly possessions and enjoyments; the love of God and the love of the world cannot co-exist in the human heart.
3. He who loves God rejoices to labor for the glory of God.
The love of God excites in us the desire that He should be better known and loved by men, and thereby glorified. Zeal is the outcome of love: “Where there is no zeal there is no love,” says St. Augustine. One who loves God is grieved, nay, indignant, when God is offended; Moses in his anger threw the stone tables of the law to the ground when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf. On the other hand those who love God rejoice when He is honored; they spare no exertion to bring wanderers back to Him. Consider what hardships the apostles and missioners endured in evangelizing heathen lands; or what St. Monica did for her erring son, Augustine. The love of God is the motive which actuates the angels in their care of us; and which makes us pray: “Hallowed be Thy name.”
4. He who loves God gives God thanks for the benefits He confers, and bears willingly the sufferings He lays upon him.
If we really love God, all that comes from His hand will be welcome, whether it be pleasant or painful. If we receive favors from Him, we must do as Noe did when he came out of the Ark (Gen. viii. 20); as the three young men in the furnace of Babylon (Dan. iii. 51 seq.); or the leper Our Lord healed (Luke xvii. 16), and not be forgetful of our Benefactor, by omitting night prayers, or grace before meals. One should be thankful for the smallest gifts, for in gratitude betokens an unfeeling heart. Moreover the* sufferings God sends should also be cheerfully accepted. Witness Job and St. Paul, who abounded with joy in all tribulation (2 Cor. vii. 4). The apostles and martyrs met death with gladness; St. Teresa said: “To suffer or to die.” The heart that loves God loves the cross also; the greater our desire to suffer and be humbled for the sake of God, the greater is our love for Him; so say the saints.
5. He who loves God loves his neighbor also.
Every one that loves the Creator, loves the creatures that He has made. He loves his neighbor because he sees Our Lord in his person; this Christ Himself tells us (Matt. xxv. 40). He does not love the just only, he loves the sinner as well; for while we hate sin, because it is hateful in God’s sight, we should love the sinner. We should only hate the evil spirits and the reprobate, whom God hates with an eternal hatred.
3. We must love God with all our faculties, and above all things else in the whole world.
We must love God with a special, a superexcellent love. Christ does not merely command us to love God, but to love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. “The true measure of our love to God,” says St. Francis of Sales, “is to love Him without measure.”
We love God with all our strength if we refer all to Him; all our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Our first thought on rising in the morning should be of God, and of Him we should think in all we do during the day. All that is beautiful in creation should remind us of the glory of the Creator. To him who loves God all nature speaks in a voice inaudible to the world at large, but intelligible to his ear.
We love God more than anything else in the world, if we are ready to give up everything unhesitatingly, if such be His will.
God is, in fact, our final end; creatures are only means to the attainment of this end. Hence it is incumbent upon us to sacrifice them all in order to possess Him. We must be prepared to give up our bodily life, like the three Babylonian youths; we must be prepared to leave our relatives, as Abraham did; nay more, a father must even sacrifice his only son, as Abraham sacrificed Isaac, if God require this of him. God may be compared to the pearl of great price, to buy which a man must sell all that he hath (Matt. xiii. 46). God tries the just man to see if he loves Him more than this passing world; yet He often contents Himself with our good will, and does not take from us the beloved object, if we are ready to give it up to Him. He who is unduly cast, down by afflictions does not love God above all; nor he who omits any good work from motives of human respect, for he esteems the favor of men more than the favor of God.
One may love creatures, but only for God’s sake.
We may only take pleasure in creatures in so far as they are conducive to the service of the Most High. The Creator ought to be loved in His creatures, not the creatures in themselves. God calls Himself a jealous God (Exod. xx. 5), because He cannot tolerate our loving anything which interferes with our love for Him. He must reign supreme in our hearts, or hold no place in them at all (St. Francis of Sales). Because the patriarch Jacob was too fond of his youngest son, Joseph, He took him from him for a time, and He did the same with Benjamin. So He acts towards us now. Christ says: “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matt. x. 37). St. Augustine says: “He loves God too little who loves anything besides God; unless indeed he loves it out of love to God.”
290 The Commandments.
4, The love of God is of great advantage to us: Through it we are united to God here on earth, our minds are enlightened, our will is strengthened; we obtain pardon of sin, peace of soul, manifold proofs of God’s favor, and after death celestial joys.
As avarice is the root of all evil, so the holy love of God is the root of all that is good. It is compared to oil, or to fire, for like these it rises upward, it gives light and warmth; it softens and purifies. He who loves God is the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit; thus he is united to God. Through love God becomes present in our hearts as He is in heaven; for Christ says: “If any man love Me, My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him” (John xiv. 23). Love of God and sanctifying grace cannot be dissevered; where one is, there is the other. He who loves God enjoys heaven upon earth. “Hence,” says St. Francis of Sales, “we should not be too anxious to discover whether we are pleasing to God, but rather whether God is pleasing to us.” The man who loves God obtains through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost enlightenment of the mind, strengthening of the will, pardon of sin, and true peace of soul. Our soul is like a mirror, which reflects the object towards which it is turned. If therefore we direct it towards God, the light of His divinity will shine into our soul, which will have a clear perception, that is, of divine things. “In the love of God is honorable wisdom” (Ecclus. i. 14). St. Francis of Sales calls love the compendium of theology; by it many unlearned men, monks and hermits, have attained proficiency in the divine science. As red-hot iron is easily shaped by the hammer of the blacksmith, so the soul which is in flamed by divine love is shaped by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Nothing gives courage and strength more than love does. The love of her offspring makes the timid hen so brave that she will fly at a man in their defense. And what will not a mother endure for the sake of her child?”Charity beareth all things, endureth all things” (1 Cor. xiii. 7). What we love to do is no trouble to us, for love makes labor light. If then natural affection is so potent, what cannot the love of God do? It enables us to accomplish the greatest undertakings. Through the love of God we obtain pardon of sin. Christ said of the Magdalen: “Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much” (Luke vii. 47). “Charity covereth a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. iv. 8). Nothing clears a field of thistles and thorns as quickly as fire, and no less quickly does a spark of divine charity cleanse the heart from all sin. The Holy Ghost Who takes up His dwelling in the heart that loves God, brings peace to that heart. He is essentially the Comforter. Whosoever loves God feels within him the divine presence, and this affords him greater satisfaction than all the pleasures of the world. Without charity there is no true peace. He who loves God enjoys true peace, because his will is in entire conformity to the will of God. Charity procures for us many proofs of God’s favor. Many of the saints received revelations from God. Christ says: “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will manifest Myself to him” (John xiv. 21). To others Christ Himself appeared, or His blessed Mother, or the angels. Of this many in stances occur in both the New and the Old Testament. Or they obtained speedy answers to prayer, marvelous enlightenment in divine things, interior consolations such as the world cannot give. To His friends, i.e., those who love Him, God communicates His mysteries, to increase in them charity and sanctifying grace. Christ says: “I have called you friends, because all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you” (John xv. 15). St. Paul tells us: “To them that love God all things work together for good” (Rom. viii. 28). Even trials and afflictions work for good to him who loves God, as was the case with Joseph, Jacob, and Tobias. Through the love of God we attain the joys of heaven. St. Paul says: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. ii. 9). This is because he is rich in good works who is inflamed with divine charity, for love stimulates us to action. Hence the Apostle says: “The charity of Christ presses us” (2 Cor. v. 14). To behold God, as we shall in heaven, and to love Him is one and the same thing. We needs must love the highest when we see it. “He who knows by experience,” says St. Alphonsus, “how sweet and delightful it is to love God, loses all taste for earthly things.”
5. The merit of our good works and the degree of our future felicity is in proportion to the magnitude of our love for God.
“The greater is our love of God,” says St. Francis of Sales, “the more meritorious are our actions. God does not regard the greatness of the work, but the love wherewith it is performed.” The two mites of the poor widow had more value in the sight of God than the large contributions of the rich. St. Paul tells us that all gifts, however wonderful, all good works and austerities are utterly worthless with out charity. Good works without the love of God are like lamps without oil. As food is tasteless and insipid without a condiment, so, if charity is lacking, our works are without savor before God. Moreover the measure of our eternal felicity depends upon the degree of charity we possess at our death. “He who has loved most shall receive the greatest glory,” says St. Francis of Sales. An earthly father often bequeaths the largest legacy to the child who has shown the most affection for him. Even on earth he who loves God best is the recipient of the greatest graces. To such a one many sins are for given. When Mary Magdalen fell at Our Lord’s feet in Simon’s house, He said of her: “Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much” (Luke vii. 47). A greater love of God brings with it a greater knowledge of God: like a fire which, the larger it is, the more radiance it emits. If we love God we are rich, richer far than those who own unbounded wealth, but who do not love Him; they are poor whoever they may be, or whatever they may possess.
The love of God may be increased in the soul by meditation upon the perfections of God and the benefits He confers on us; by practicing detachment from earthly things and by frequently making acts of the love of God.
Just as a fire is kept up and increased in size by heaping on fuel, so the love of God within us is fed by meditation on the truths of religion. Meditation on Our Lord’s Passion is specially calculated to increase in us the love of God. Even in the realms of celestial glory the Redeemer’s death will form the strongest incentive to the blessed spirits to love God. Detachment from earthly things also contributes to augment our love. For as a stone gravitates towards the centre of the earth as soon as the obstacles in its way are removed, so our soul mounts upward with accelerated motion to God, the centre of our being and its final aim, if we free ourselves from the bonds that hold us captive upon earth. It is also useful to make frequent acts of the love of God. As in everything practice makes perfect, so by awakening within ourselves the love of God, we shall attain to a high degree of love. St. Francis of Assisi would repeat for whole days and nights the words: “My God and my all!” It is all the more important to make acts of love because the command to love God imposes it upon us as an obligation. St. Alphonsus declares that he who for a whole month neglects this practice can scarcely be exempt from mortal sin. Our love should be without limit or measure, as is God Himself.
The love of God is lost by mortal sin.
As water extinguishes fire, so the love of God is quenched in our hearts by mortal sin. He who has thus lost the love of God has turned his mind away from God, and directed it wholly to creatures. Except sin, nothing has power to deprive us of the love of God. Thus St. Paul exclaims: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. viii. 38).
This article, III. THE PRECEPT OF THE LOVE OF GOD is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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