CHAPTER VI: The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ - by St. Alphonsus Liguori
- CHARITY IS NOT AMBITIOUS
He that loves Jesus Christ desires nothing but Jesus Christ.
HE that loves God does not desire to be esteemed and loved by his fellow-men: the single desire of his heart is to enjoy the favour of Almighty God, Who alone forms the object of his love. St. Hilary writes that all honour paid by the world is the business of the devil. And so it is: for the enemy traffics for Hell, when he infects the soul with the desire of esteem because by thus laying aside humility, she runs great risks of plunging into every vice. St. James writes that as God confers His graces with open hands upon the humble, so does He close them against the proud, whom He resists. God resists the proud, and gives His grace to the humble [St. James Chap. 4 verse 6.]. He says he resists the proud, signifying that He does not even listen to their prayers. And certainly, among the acts of pride we may reckon the desire to be honoured by men, and self-exaltation at receiving honours from them.
We have a frightful example of this in the history of Brother Justin the Franciscan, who had even risen to a lofty state of contemplation; but because perhaps-----and indeed without a perhaps-----he nourished within himself a desire of human esteem, behold what befell him. One day Pope Eugenius IV sent for him; and on account of the great opinion he had of his sanctity, showed him peculiar marks of honour, embraced him, and made him sit by his side. Such high honours filled Brother Justin full of self-conceit; on which St. John Capistran said to him, "Alas, Brother Justin, thou didst leave us an angel, and thou returnest a devil!" And in fact, the hapless Brother becoming daily more and more puffed up with arrogance, and insisting on being treated according to his own estimate of himself, he at last murdered a brother with a knife; he afterwards became an apostate, and fled into the kingdom of Naples, where he perpetrated other atrocities; and there he died in prison, an apostate to the last. Hence it is that a certain great servant of God wisely said, that when we hear or read of the fall of some towering cedars of Libanus, of a Solomon, a Tertullian, an Osius, who had all the reputation of Saints, it is a sign that they were not given wholly to God; but nourished inwardly some spirit of pride and so fell away. Let us therefore tremble, when we feel arise within us an ambition to appear in public, and to be esteemed by the world; and when the world pays us some tribute of honour, let us beware of taking complacency in it, which might prove the cause of our utter ruin. Let us especially be on our guard against all ambitious seeking of preference, and sensibility in points of honour. St. Teresa said. "Where punctiliousness prevails, there spirituality will never prevail." [Way of Perf. c. 13] Many persons make profession of a spiritual life, but they are worshippers of self. They have the semblance of certain virtues, but they are ambitious of being praised in all their undertakings; and if nobody else praises them, they praise themselves: in short, they strive to appear better than others; and if their honour be touched, they lose their peace, they leave off Holy Communion, they omit all their devotions, and find no rest till they imagine they have got back their former standing. The true lovers of God do not so behave. They not only carefully shun every word of self-esteem and all self-complacency, but, further, they are sorry at hearing themselves commended by others, and their gladness is to behold themselves held in small repute by the rest of men.
The saying of St. Francis of Assisi is most true: "What I am before God that I am." Of what use is it to pass for great in the eyes of the world, if before God we be vile and worthless? And on the contrary, what matters it to be despised by the world, provided we be dear and acceptable in the eyes of God?
St. Augustine thus writes: "The approbation of him who praises neither heals a bad conscience, nor does the reproach of one who blames wound a good conscience." [Contra Petil. l. 3, c. 7.] As the man who praises us cannot deliver us from the chastisement of our evil doings, so neither can he who blames us rob us of the merit of our good actions. "What does it matter," says St. Teresa, "though we be condemned and reviled by creatures, if before Thee, O God! we are great and without blame?" The Saints had no other desire than to live unknown, and to pass for contemptible in the estimation of all. Thus writes St. Francis de Sales: "But what wrong do we suffer when people have a bad opinion of us, since we ought to have such of ourselves? Perhaps we know that we are bad, and yet wish to pass off for good in the estimation of others." [Spirit. ch. 3.]
Oh, what security is found in the hidden life for such as wish cordially to love Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ Himself set us the example, by living hidden and despised for thirty years in a workshop. And with the same view of escaping the esteem of men, the Saints went and hid themselves in deserts and in caves. It was said by St. Vincent of Paul, [Abelly, l. 3. ch. 34,48.] that a love of appearing in public, and of being spoken of in terms of praise, and of hearing our conduct commended, or that people should say that we succeed admirably and work wonders, is an evil which, while it makes us unmindful of God, contaminates our best actions, and proves the most fatal drawback to the spiritual life.
Whoever, therefore, would make progress in the Jove of Jesus Christ, must absolutely give a death-blow to the love of self-esteem. But how shall we inflict this blow? Behold how St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi instructs us: "That which keeps alive the appetite for self-esteem is the occupying a favourable position in the minds of all; consequently the death of self-esteem is to keep one's self hidden, so as not to be known to anyone. And till we learn to die in this manner, we shall never be true servants of God." [Cepar. c. 13.]
In order, then, to be pleasing in the sight of God, we must avoid all ambition of appearing and of making a parade in the eyes of men. And we must shun with still greater caution the ambition of governing others. Sooner than behold this accursed ambition set foot in the convent, St. Teresa [Way of Perf. ch. 8.] declared she would prefer to have the whole convent burned, and all the nuns with it. So that she signified her wish, that if ever one of her religious should be caught aiming at the Superiorship, she should be expelled from the community, or at least undergo perpetual confinement. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said, "The honour of a spiritual person consists in being put below all, and in abhorring all superiority over others. The ambition of a soul that loves God should be to excel all others in humility, according to the counsel of St. Paul: In humility let each esteem others better than themselves. [Phil. ii. 3.] In a word, he that loves God must make God the sole object of his ambition.
Affections and Prayers
My Jesus, grant me the ambition of pleasing Thee, and make me forget all creatures and myself also. What will it profit me to be loved by the whole world, if I be not loved by Thee, the only love of my soul! My Jesus, Thou camest into the world to win our hearts; if I am unable to give Thee my heart, do Thou please to take it and replenish it with Thy love, and never allow me to be separated from Thee any more. I have, alas! turned my back upon Thee in the past; but now that I am conscious of the evil I have done, I grieve over it with my whole heart, and no affliction in the world can so distress me, as the remembrance of the offenses that I have so often committed against Thee. I am consoled to think that Thou art infinite goodness that Thou dost not disdain to love a sinner who loves Thee. My beloved Redeemer, O sweetest love of my soul, I have heretofore slighted Thee; but now at least I love Thee more than myself! I offer Thee myself and all that belongs to me. I have only the one wish to love Thee, and to please Thee. This forms all my ambition; accept of it, and be pleased to increase it, and exterminate in me all desire of earthly goods. Thou art indeed deserving of love and great indeed are my obligations of loving Thee. Behold me then, I wish to be wholly Thine: and I will suffer whatever Thou pleasest, Thou who for love of me didst die of sorrow on the Cross! Thou wishest me to be a Saint; Thou canst make me a Saint; in Thee I place my trust.
And I also confide in thy protection, O Mary, great Mother of God!