IV. THE LOVE OF THE WORLD IS OPPOSED TO THE LOVE OF GOD
However cruel or depraved a man may be, his heart clings to some person or thing, his nature impels him to love some object. If he does not love God above all, he needs must love a creature above all.
1. The love of the world consists in loving, above all, money, or the gratification of one’s appetite, or earthly honors or any thing else in the world, instead of giving the first place to God.
The love of creatures is not in itself sinful, only when the creature is more loved than the Creator. All who love creatures more than God are idolaters, because they give to creatures the honor due to God. One loves money, like Judas; another eating and drinking, like Dives; and many others whose god is their belly; a third sacrifices all to ambition, like Absalom; others have an inordinate love of amusements, gambling and the like. All these resemble the Jews who danced round the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai. The maxim of the man of the world is: “Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we die.” The love of the world is worse than high treason; it makes a man a traitor to the King of kings.
2. Through love of the world we incur the loss of sanctifying grace, and eternal felicity.
The lover of the world does not possess sanctifying grace. As the dove does not rest upon anything that is unclean or corrupt, so the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the soul of the carnally-minded and evil (St. Ambrose). The Holy of holies cannot dwell in the soul that is stained with sin. “If thy heart be full of vinegar, how can it be filled with honey? It must first be emptied, and undergo a toil some process of cleansing,” says St. Augustine. He who is destitute of the presence of the Holy Spirit, that is, of sanctifying grace (the wedding-garment), shall be cast into exterior darkness (Matt. xxii. 12). Hence Christ threatens the votary of the world with eternal damnation: “He that loveth his life (who endeavors to get out of it all possible enjoyment) shall lose it” (John xii. 25). Again, “Woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke vi. 25). No more than a ship lying fast at anchor can sail into harbor, can a man who loves the world reach the haven of eternal felicity. “Which dost thou prefer?” asks St. Augustine, “to love the world and go to perdition, or to love Christ and enter into life everlasting?” He is a fool who for the sake of this passing world plays away eternal life.
3. The love of the world blinds the soul of man, and leads him away from God.
The love of the world blinds the soul of man. When earthly things intervene between God and the soul, the soul becomes dark, just as does the moon when the earth is between it and the sun. As Tobias the elder was blinded by the dung of a swallow, so earthly cares destroy the sight of the soul. Hence worldlings cannot comprehend the teaching of the Gospel; it is foolishness to them (1 Cor. ii. 14). As the sun’s rays cannot penetrate muddy water, so the lover of the world cannot be enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The earth is like a limed twig; the bird that rests upon it cannot soar upwards. The cares of this world stifle the word of God in the heart of man, as thorns choke the sprouting seed. The votaries of the world resemble the men in the Gospel who were invited to the heavenly banquet, but who did not go because of their wife, their farm, their oxen (Luke xiv. 16).
4. The love of the world destroys interior peace, and makes men fear death greatly.
The worldling is a stranger to interior peace. It has been well said: A man must choose between indulgence of the senses and tranquillity of soul. The two are not compatible. One might as well try to fill a vessel that has holes in it, as to satisfy the heart that only strives after the pleasures of time and sense. And since the votaries of the world can never attain interior peace, they want a constant change of amusement, as one who cannot sleep turns restlessly from side to side in the hope of finding rest. Christ alone can give us true content. He said to His apostles: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth do I give unto you” (John xiv. 27). St. Augustine exclaims: “Our heart has no rest until it rest in Thee, O Lord!” The lover of the world fears death so much, because he will be parted from his idol, and because death will put an end to the happiness he makes it his object to attain. He has, besides, an inward presentiment of what will follow after death. On account of this all who love the world are filled with apprehension and even despair in the hour of death. The prisoner fears nothing so much as the summons to appear before the judge; and the sinner, though he is never free from alarm, dreads the moment above all when his soul will leave the body and enter the presence of her divine Judge (St. John Chrysostom). The fish that is caught on the hook scarcely feels pain until it is drawn out of the water; so those who are entangled in the meshes of the world first feel real anguish when their last hour comes. Think, O worldling, if the joys which the devil offers you are thus mixed with bitterness, what will the torments be which he prepares for you hereafter?
5. The love of the world gives rise to hatred of God and of His servants.
A man who loves the world cannot possibly have the love of God within him. Just as a ring which encircles one finger cannot at the same time encircle another, so the human heart cannot love God if love binds it to some earthly object. St. John says: “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him” (1 John ii. 15), We cannot look with the same eye both at heaven and earth at the same time. The lover of the world even goes so far as to hate God and divine things. Thus Christ says: “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will sustain the one and despise the other” (Matt. vi. 24) . What are we to conclude if we hear any one rail at priests and at religion? The lover of the world is therefore the enemy of God. “If thou wouldst not be the enemy of God,” says St. Augustine, “be an enemy of the world.”
6. The love of the world ceases at death.
There are many things which thou canst only love for a time; then love comes to an end; for either thou wilt be taken from the object of thy affections or it from thee. Hence we should not love that which we may lose, or from which we may be parted; we should only love those things that are eternal (St. Augustine). Wherefore let not thy heart cleave to earthly things. The true servant of God clings no more to his possessions than to his clothes, which he puts on and off at will; whereas the indifferent Christian makes them a part of his very being, like the skin of an animal (St. Francis of Sales). The true Christian should resemble the eagle, which inhabits the heights, only descending to earth in search of food. Or he should be like a tree, whose roots alone are in the ground, while it spreads its branches towards heaven. The soul of man is immortal, and it should only strive after what is immortal. “Seek those things that are above” (Col. iii. 1). “Therefore choose Him for thy friend,” says Thomas a Kempis, “Who, when all others forsake thee, will not abandon thee.”
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