CHAPTER 3: The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ - by St. Alphonsus Liguori
- CHARITY ENVIETH NOT
The soul that loves Jesus Christ does not envy the Great Ones of this World, but only those who are Greater Lovers of Jesus Christ.
ST. GREGORY explains this next characteristic of charity in saying, that as charity despises all earthly greatness, it cannot possibly provoke her envy. "She envieth not, because, as she desireth nothing in this world, she cannot envy earthly prosperity."
Hence we must distinguish two kinds of envy, one evil and the other holy. The evil kind is that which envies and repines at the worldly goods possessed by others on this earth. But holy envy, so far from wishing to be like, rather compassionates the great ones of the world, who live in the midst of honors and earthly pleasures. She seeks and desires God alone, and has no other aim besides that of loving Him as much as she can; and therefore she has a pious envy of those who love Him more than she does, for she would, if possible, surpass the very seraphim in loving Him.
This is the sole end which pious souls have in view on earth-----an end which so charms and ravishes the heart of God with love that it causes Him to say: "Thou hast wounded My heart, My sister . . . My spouse, thou hast wounded My heart with one of thy eyes." By "one of thy eyes" is meant that one end which the espoused soul has in all her devotions and thoughts, namely, to please Almighty God. Men of the world look on things with many eyes, that is, have several inordinate views in their actions; as, for instance, to please others, to become honored, to obtain riches, and if, nothing else, at least to please themselves; but the Saints have but a single eye, with which they keep in view, in all that they do, the sole pleasure of God; and with David they say: "What have I in Heaven, and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth?" What do I wish, O my God, in this world or in the next, save Thee alone? Thou art my riches, Thou art the only Lord of my heart. "Let the rich," said St. Paulinus, "enjoy their riches, let the kings enjoy their kingdoms, Thou. O Christ, art my treasure and my kingdom!"
And here we must remark, that we must not only perform good works, but we must perform them well. In order that our works may be good and perfect, they must be done with the sole end of pleasing God. This was the admirable praise bestowed on Jesus Christ: He hath done all things well." Many actions may in themselves be praiseworthy, but from being performed for some other purpose than for the glory of God, they are often of little or no value in His sight. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said, "God rewards our actions by the weight of pure intention." As much as to say, that according as our intention is pure, so does the Lord accept of and reward our actions. But, O God, how difficult it is to find an action done solely for Thee! I remember a holy old man, a religious, who had labored much in the service of God, and died in the reputation of sanctity; now one day, as he cast a glance back at his past life, he said to me in at one of sadness and fear, "Woe is me! when I consider all the actions of my past life, I do not find one done entirely for God." Oh, this accursed self-love, that makes us lose all or the greater part of the fruit of our good actions! How many in their most holy employments, as of preaching, hearing confessions, giving missions, labor and exert themselves very much, and gain little or nothing because they do not regard God alone, but worldly honor, or self-interest, or the vanity of making an appearance, or at least their own inclination!
Our Lord has said, "Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them, otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father Who is in Heaven." He that works for his own gratification already receives his wages: "Amen I say to you, they have received their reward." But a reward, indeed, which dwindles into a little smoke, or the pleasure of a day that quickly vanishes, and confers no benefit on the soul. The Prophet Aggeus says, that whoever labors for anything else than to please God, puts his reward in a sack full of holes, which, when he comes to open, he finds entirely empty: And he that hath earned wages, put them into a bag with holes. And hence it is that such persons, in the event of their not gaining the object for which they entered on some undertaking, are thrown into great trouble. This is a sign that they had not in view the glory of God alone. He that undertakes a thing solely for the glory of God, is not troubled at all, though his undertaking may fail of success; for, in truth, by working with a pure intention, he has already gained his object, which was to please Almighty God.
The following are the signs which indicate whether we work solely for God in any spiritual undertaking.
1. If we are not disturbed at the failure of our plans, because when we see it is not God's will, neither is it any longer our will.
2. If we rejoice at the good done by others, as heartily as if we ourselves had done it.
3. If we have no preference for one charge more than for another, but willingly accept that which obedience to Superiors enjoins us.
4. If after our actions we do not seek the thanks or approbation of others, nor are in any way affected if we be found fault with or scolded, being satisfied with having pleased God. And if when the world applauds us we are not puffed up, but meet the vain glory, which might make itself felt, with the reply of the venerable John of Avila: " Get away, thou comest too late, for all has been already given to God."
This is to enter into the joy of the Lord; that is, to enjoy the enjoyment of God, as is promised to His faithful servants: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." And if it falls to our lot to do something pleasing to God, what more, asks St. John Chrysostom, can we desire? "If thou art found worthy to perform something that pleases God, dost thou seek other recompense than this?" The greatest reward, the brightest fortune, that can befall a creature, is to give pleasure to his Creator.
And this is what Jesus Christ looks for from a soul that loves Him: "Put Me, He says, as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm." He desires us to place Him as a seal on our heart and on our arm: on our heart, in order that whatever we intend doing, we may intend solely for the love of God; on our arm, in order that whatever we do, all may be done to please God; so that God may be always the sole end of all our thoughts and of all our actions. St. Teresa said, that he who would become a Saint must live free from every other desire than that of pleasing God; and her first daughter, the Venerable Beatrice of the Incarnation, said, "No sum whatever could repay the slightest thing done for God." And with reason; for all things done to please God are acts of charity which unite us to God, and obtain for us everlasting rewards.
Purity of intention is called the heavenly alchemy by which iron is turned into gold; that is to say, the most trivial actions (such as to work, to take one's meals, to take recreation or repose), when done for God, become the gold of holy love. Wherefore St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi believes for certain that those who do all with a pure intention go straight to Paradise, without passing through Purgatory. It is related (in the Spiritual Treasury) that it was the custom of a pious hermit, before setting about any work, to pause a little, and lift his eyes to Heaven; on being questioned why he did so, he replied, "I am taking my aim." By which he meant, that as the archer, before shooting his arrow, takes his aim, that he may not miss the mark, so before each action he made God his aim, in order that it might be sure of pleasing him.
We should do the same; and even during the performance of our actions, it is very good for us from time to time to renew our good intention.
Those who have nothing else in view in their undertakings than the Divine will, enjoy that holy liberty of spirit which belongs to the children of God; and this enables them to embrace everything that pleases Jesus Christ, however revolting it may be to their own self-love or human respect. The love of Jesus Christ establishes His lovers in a state of total indifference; so that all is the same to them, be it sweet or bitter; they desire nothing for their own pleasure, but all for the pleasure of God. With the same feelings of peace, they address themselves to small and great works; to the pleasant and the unpleasant: it is enough for them if they please God.
Many, on the other hand, are willing to serve God, but it must be in such an employment, in such a place, with such companions, or under such circumstances, or else they either quit the work, or do it with an ill will. Such persons have not freedom of spirit, but are slaves of self-love; and on that account gain very little merit by what they do; they lead a troubled life, because the yoke of Jesus Christ becomes a burden to them. The true lovers of Jesus Christ care only to do what pleases Him; and for the reason that it pleases Him, when He wills, and where He wills, and in the manner He wills: and whether He wishes to employ them in a state of life honoured by the world, or in a life of obscurity and insignificance. This is what is meant by loving Jesus Christ with a pure love; and in this we ought to exercise ourselves, battling against the craving of our self-love, which would urge us to seek important and honourable functions, and such as suit our inclinations.
We must, moreover, be detached from all exercises, even spiritual ones, when the Lord wishes us to be occupied in other works of His good pleasure. One day, Father Alvarez, finding himself overwhelmed with business, was anxious to get rid of it, in order to go and pray, because it seemed to him that during that time he was not with God; but our Lord then said to him: "Though I do not keep thee with Me, let it suffice thee that I make use of thee." This is a profitable lesson for those who are sometimes disturbed at being obliged, by obedience or by charity, to leave their accustomed devotions; let them be assured that such disturbances on like occasions do not come from God, but either from the devil or from self-love. "Give pleasure to God, and die." This is the grand maxim of the Saints.
Affections and Prayers
O my Eternal God, I offer Thee my whole heart; but what sort of heart, O God, is it that I offer Thee? A heart, created, indeed, to love Thee; but which, instead of loving Thee, has so many times rebelled against Thee. But behold, my Jesus, if there was a time when my heart rebelled against Thee, now it is deeply grieved and penitent for the displeasure it has given Thee. Yes, my dear Redeemer, I am sorry for having despised Thee; and I am determined to do all to obey Thee, and to love Thee at every cost. Oh, draw me wholly to Thy love; do this for the sake of the love which made Thee die for me on the Cross. I love Thee, my Jesus; I love Thee with all my soul; I love Thee more than myself, O true and only lover of my soul; for I find none but Thee Who hast sacrificed His life for me. I weep to think that I have been so ungrateful to Thee. Unhappy that I am! I was already lost; but I trust that by Thy grace Thou hast restored me to life. And this shall be my life, to love Thee always, my sovereign good. Make me love Thee, O infinite love, and I ask Thee for nothing more!
O Mary my mother, accept of me for thy servant, and gain acceptance for me with Jesus thy Son.