On the Love of God.
The 17th Sunday after Pentecost serves as a wonderful opportunity to turn once more to the pages of St. Alphonsus Ligouri's homilies. His words are based upon the line from St. Matthew's Gospel: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind". Below follow his words:
“What object more noble, more magnificent, more powerful, more rich, more beautiful, more bountiful, more merciful, more grateful, more amiable, or more loving, than himself, could God give us to love? Who more noble than God? Some boast of the nobility of their family for five hundred or a thousand years; but the nobility of God is eternal. He is the Lord of all. Before God all the angels in heaven or all the nobles on earth are but as a drop of water or a grain of dust. ‘Behold the Gentiles are as a drop of a bucket behold the islands are as a little dust.’ (Isaiah. 40:15.) Who more powerful than God? He can do whatsoever he wills. By an act of his will he has created this world, and by another act he can destroy it when he pleases. Who more wealthy? He possesses all the riches of heaven and earth. Who more beautiful? Before the beauty of God all the beauties of creatures disappear. Who more bountiful? St. Augustine says, that God has a greater desire to do good to us than we have to receive it. Who more merciful? If the most impious sinner on earth humble himself before God, and repent of his sins, God instantly pardons and embraces him. Who more grateful? He does not leave unrewarded the smallest act we perform for his sake. Who more amiable? God is so amiable that, by barely seeing and loving him in heaven, the saints feel a joy which makes them perfectly happy and content for all eternity. The greatest of the torments of the damned arise from knowing that this God is so amiable, and that they cannot love him….
“Love also prevents us from feeling the pains of this life. St. Bonaventure says, that the love of God is like honey; it sweetens things the most bitter. And what more sweet to a soul that loves God than to suffer for him? She knows that by cheerfully embracing sufferings she pleases God, and that her pains shall be the brightest jewels in her crown in Paradise. And who is there that will not willingly suffer and die in imitation of Jesus Christ, who has gone before us, carrying his cross, to offer himself in sacrifice for the love of us, and inviting us to follow his example? ‘If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.’ (Matt. 16: 24.) For this purpose he has condescended to humble himself to death, and to the opprobrious death of the cross, for the love of us. ‘He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.’ (Phil. 2:8.)…
“St. Teresa used to say, that in calling a soul to his love, God bestows upon her an exceedingly great favour. Since, then, most beloved brethren, God calls us all to his love, let us thank and love him with our whole heart. Because he loves us intensely, he wishes to he tenderly loved by us. ‘When,’ says St. Bernard, ‘God loves, he desires nothing else than to be loved; for he loves only that he may be loved.’ (Sermon. 63, in Cant.) It was to inflame us with his divine love that the Eternal Word descended from heaven. So he himself has declared; adding, that he only desires to see this fire lighted up in our hearts. ‘I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?’ (Luke 12:49.) Let us now see what means we ought to adopt in order to love God. ..
In the first place, we ought to guard against every sin, whether mortal or venial. ‘If,’ says Jesus Christ, ‘any one love me, he will keep my word.’ (John 14: 23.) The first mark of love is to endeavour not to give the smallest displeasure to the beloved. How can he be said to love God with his whole heart, who is not afraid to commit deliberate venial offences against God? St. Teresa used to say to her spiritual children: ‘From deliberate sin, however small, may God deliver you.’ But some will say: Venial sin is a small evil. Is it a small evil to displease a God who is so good, and who loves us so tenderly?
“In the second place, to love God with the whole heart, it is necessary to have a great desire to love him. Holy desires are the wings with which we fly to God; for, as St. Lawrence Justinian says, a good desire gives us strength to go forward, and lightens the labour of walking in the way of God. According to the spiritual masters, he that does not advance in the way of the Lord goes back; but, on the other hand, God cheerfully gives himself to those who seek after him. ‘The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh him.’ (Lamen. 3:25.) He fills with his own good things all who desire him through love. ‘He hath filled the hungry with good things.’ (Luke 1:53.)
“In the third place, it is necessary to resolve courageously, to arrive at the perfect love of God. Some persons desire to belong entirely to God, but do not resolve to adopt the means. It is of them the Wise Man says, ‘Desires kill the soul.’ (Prov. 21:25.) I would wish, they say, to become a saint; but still, with all their desires, they never advance a single step. St. Teresa used to say, that ‘of these irresolute souls the devil is never afraid. Because, if they do not resolve sincerely to give themselves to God without reserve, they shall always continue in the same imperfections. But, on the other hand, the saint says, that God wishes only from us a true resolution to become saints; he himself will do the rest. If, then, we wish to love God with our whole heart, we must resolve to do without reserve what is most pleasing to him, and to begin at once to put our hands to the work. ‘Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly.’ (Eccl. 9:10.)…
“To obtain and to preserve divine love, three things are necessary: meditation, communion, and prayer. First, meditation is necessary. He who thinks but little on God, loves him but little… The communion is another holy furnace, in which we are inflamed with divine love. ‘The holy eucharist,’ says St. Chrysostom, ‘is a fire which inflames us, that, like lions breathing fire, we may retire from the holy table, being made terrible to the devil.’ (Hom, 41 ad Pop.).. Above all, prayer (the prayer of petition) is necessary. It is by means of prayer that God dispenses all his favours, but particularly the great gift of divine love. To make us ask this love, meditation is a great help.
“Let us, then, continually ask of Jesus Christ his holy love; and let us ask his divine mother Mary, who is the treasurer of all his graces, to obtain it for us”.
So ends the selection from St. Alphonsus regarding the manner of the love of God which is proper to the Catholic soul. The three aspects he mentions, meditation, communion and prayer, are those which he constantly refers to throughout his writings. He identifies them as being the very foundation of any fruitful spiritual life. It is also so characteristic of him that he closes his beautifully rich lines with a commendation to Mary. She after all, is the one who can most perfectly guide each soul towards a proper love of God.