CHAPTER XII: The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ - by St. Alphonsus Liguori
- CHARITY HOPETH ALL THINGS
He that loves Jesus Christ hopes for all Things from Him.
HOPE increases charity, and charity increases hope. Hope in the Divine goodness undoubtedly gives an increase to our love of Jesus Christ. St. Thomas says that in the very moment when we hope to receive some benefit from a person, we begin also to love him. On this account, the Lord forbids us to put our trust in creatures: Put not your trust in princes. [Ps. cxlv. 2.] Further, He pronounces a curse on those who do so: Cursed be the man that trusteth in man. [Jer. xvii. 5.] God does not wish us to trust in creatures because He does not wish us to fix our love upon them. Hence St. Vincent of Paul said: "Let us beware of reposing too much confidence in men; for when God beholds us thus leaning on them for support, He Himself withdraws from us." On the other hand, the more we trust in God, the more we shall advance in His holy love: I have run the way of Thy Commandments when Thou didst enlarge my heart. [Ps. cxviii. 32.] Oh, how rapidly does that soul advance in perfection that has her heart dilated with confidence in God! She flies rather than runs; for by making God the foundation of all her hope, she flings aside her own weakness, and borrows the strength of God Himself, which is communicated to all who place their confidence in Him: They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. [Is. xl. 31.] The eagle is the bird that soars nearest the sun; in like manner, the soul that has God for her trust becomes detached from the earth, and more and more united to God by love.
Now as hope increases the love of God, so does love help to increase hope; for charity makes us the adopted sons of God. In the natural order we are the work of His hands; but in the supernatural order we are made sons of God and partakers of the Divine nature, through the merits of Jesus Christ; as the Apostle St. Peter writes: That by these you may be made partakers of the Divine nature. [2 Pet. i. 4.] And if charity makes us the sons of God, it consequently makes us heirs of Heaven, according to St. Paul: And if sons, heirs also. [Rom. viii. 17.] Now a son claims the right of abiding under the paternal roof; an heir is entitled to the property; and thus charity increases the hope of Paradise: so that the souls that love God cry out incessantly, "Thy kingdom come, Thy kingdom come!" Moreover, God loves those who love Him: I love them that love Me. [Prov. viii. 17.] He showers down His graces on those that seek Him by love: The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him. [Lam. iii. 25.] Consequently, the soul that loves God most has the greatest hope in His goodness. This confidence produces that imperturbable tranquility in the Saints which makes them always joyful and full of peace, even amid the severest trials; for their love of Jesus Christ, and their persuasion of His liberality towards those who love Him, leads them to trust solely in Him; and thus they find a lasting repose. The sacred spouse abounded with delights, because she loved none but her Spouse, and leaned entirely on Him for support; she was full of contentment, since she well knew how generous her beloved is towards all that love Him; so that of her it is written: Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her Beloved? [Cant. viii. 5.] These words of the Wise Man are most true: All good things come to me together with her. [Wisd. vii. 11.] With charity, all blessings are introduced into the soul.
The primary object of Christian hope is God, Whom the soul enjoys in the kingdom of Heaven. But we must not suppose that the hope of enjoying God in Paradise is any obstacle to charity; since the hope of Paradise is inseparably connected with charity, which there receives its full and complete perfection. Charity is that infinite treasure, spoken of by the Wise Man, which makes us the friends of God: An infinite treasure to men, which they that use become the friends of God. [Wisd. vii. 14.] The angelic Doctor St. Thomas says that friendship is founded on the mutual communication of goods; for as friendship is nothing more than a mutual love between friends, it follows that there must be a reciprocal interchange of the good which each possesses. Hence the Saint says: "If there be no communication, there is no friendship." On this account Jesus Christ says to His disciples: I have called you friends, because all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father I have made known to you. [John, xv. 15.] Since He had made them His friends, He had communicated all His secrets to them. St. Francis de Sales says: "If, by a supposition of what is impossible, there could be an infinite good (that is a God) to Whom we belonged in no way whatever, and with Whom we could have no union or communication, we should certainly esteem Him more than ourselves; so that we might feel great desire of being able to love Him; but we should not actually love Him, because love is built upon union; for love is a friendship, and the foundation of friendship is to have things in common; and its end is union." [Love of God, B. 10. c.10.] Thus St. Thomas teaches us that charity does not exclude the desire of the reward prepared for us in Heaven by Almighty God. On the contrary, it makes us look to it as the chief object of our love, for such is God, Who constitutes the bliss of Paradise; for friendship implies, that friends rejoice with one another.
The Spouse in the Canticles refers to this reciprocal interchange of goods, when she says: My Beloved to me and I to Him. [Cant. ii. 16.] In Heaven the soul belongs wholly to God, and God belongs wholly to the soul, according to the measure of her capacity and of her merits. But from the persuasion which the soul has of her own nothingness in comparison with the infinite attractions of Almighty God, and aware consequently that the claims of God on her love are beyond measure greater than her own can be on the love of God, she is therefore more anxious to procure the Divine pleasure than her own enjoyment; so that she is more gratified by the pleasure which she affords Almighty God by giving herself entirely to Him, than by God's giving Himself entirely to her; but at the same time she is delighted when God thus gives Himself to her, inasmuch as she is thereby animated to give herself up to God with a greater intensity of love. Soul indeed rejoices at the glory which God imparts to her, but for the sole purpose of referring it back to God Himself, and of thus doing her utmost to increase the Divine glory. At the sight of God in Heaven the soul cannot help loving Him with all her strength; on the other hand, God cannot hate anyone that loves Him: but if (supposing what is impossible) God could hate a soul that loves Him, and if a beatified soul could exist without loving God, she would much rather endure all the pains of Hell, on condition of being allowed to love God as much as He should hate her, than to live without loving God, even though she could enjoy all the other delights of Paradise. So it is; for that conviction which the soul has of God's boundless claims upon her love gives her a greater desire to love God than to be loved by Him.
Charity hopeth all things. St. Thomas, with the Master of the Sentences, defines Christian hope to be a "sure expectation of eternal happiness." Its certainty arises from the infallible promise of God to give eternal life to His faithful servants. Now charity, by taking away sin, at the same time takes away all obstacles to our obtaining the happiness of the blessed; hence the greater our charity, the greater also and firmer is our hope. Hope, on the other hand, can in no way interfere with the purity of love, because, according to the observation of St. Dionysius the Areopagite, love tends naturally to union with the object beloved; or, as St. Augustine asserts in stronger terms, love itself is like a chain of gold that links together the hearts of the lover and the loved. "Love is as it were a kind of bond uniting two together." And as this union can never be effected at a distance, the person that loves always longs for the presence of the object of his love. The sacred spouse languished in the absence of her beloved and entreated her companions to acquaint Him with her sorrow, that He might come and console her with His Presence: I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved that you tell Him that I languish with love. A soul that loves Jesus Christ exceedingly cannot but desire and hope, as long as she remains on earth, to go without delay and be united to her beloved Lord in Heaven.
Thus we see that the desire to go and see God in Heaven, not so much for the delight which we shall experience in loving God, as for the pleasure which we shall afford God by loving Him, is pure and perfect love. Nor is the joy of the blessed in Heaven any hindrance to the purity of their love; such joy is inseparable from their love; but they take far more satisfaction in their love of God than in the joy that it affords them. Someone will perhaps say: But the desire of a reward is rather a love of concupiscence than a love of friendship. We must therefore make a distinction between temporal rewards promised by men and the eternal rewards of Paradise promised by God to those who love Him: the rewards given by man are distinct from their own persons and independent of them, since they do not bestow themselves, but only their goods, when they would remunerate others; on the contrary, the principal reward which God gives to the blessed is the gift of Himself: I am thy reward exceeding great. [Gen. xv. 1.] Hence to desire Heaven is the same thing as to desire God, Who is our last end.
I wish here to propose a doubt, which may rise in the mind of one who loves God, and strives to conform himself in all things to His blessed will. If it should be ever revealed to such a one that he would be eternally lost, would he be obliged to bow to it with resignation, in order to practice conformity with the will of God? St. Thomas says no; and further, that he would sin by consenting to it, because he would be consenting to live in a state that involves sin, and is contrary to the last end for which God created him; for God did not create souls to hate Him in Hell, but to love Him in Heaven: so that He does not wish the death even of the sinner, but that all should be converted and saved. The holy Doctor says that God wishes no one to be damned except through sin; and therefore, a person, by consenting to his damnation, would not be acting in conformity with the will of God, but with the will of sin. But suppose that God, foreseeing the sin of a person, should have decreed his damnation, and that this decree should be revealed to him, would he be bound to consent to it? In the same passage the Saint says, By no means; because such a revelation must not be taken as an irrevocable decree, but made merely by way of communication, as a threat of what would follow if he persists in sin.
But let everyone banish such baneful thoughts from his mind, as only calculated to cool his confidence and love. Let us love Jesus Christ as much as possible here below; let us always be sighing to go hence and to behold Him in Paradise, that we may there love Him perfectly; let us make it the grand object of all our hopes, to go thither to love Him with all our strength. We are commanded even in this life to love God with our whole strength: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength; [Luke, x. 27.] but the angelical Doctor says that man cannot perfectly fulfill this precept upon earth; only Jesus Christ, Who was both God and Man, and the most holy Mary, who was full of grace and free from Original Sin, perfectly fulfilled it. But we miserable children of Adam, infected as we are with sin, cannot love God without some imperfection; and it is in Heaven alone, when we shall see God face to face, that we shall love Him, nay more, that we shall be necessitated to love Him with all our strength.
Behold, then, the scope of all our desires and aspirations, of all our thoughts and ardent hopes; to go and enjoy God in Heaven, in order to love Him with all our strength, and to rejoice in the enjoyment of God. The blessed certainly rejoice in their own felicity in that kingdom of delights; but the chief source of their happiness, and that which absorbs all the rest, is to know that their beloved Lord possesses an infinite
happiness for they love God incomparably more than themselves. Each one of the blessed has such a love for Him, that he would willingly forfeit all happiness, and undergo the most cruel torments, rather than that God should lose (if it were possible for Him to lose) one, even the least particle of His happiness. Hence the sight of God's infinite happiness, and the knowledge that it can never suffer diminution for all eternity, constitutes his Paradise. This is the meaning of what our Lord says to every soul on whom He bestows the possession of eternal glory: Enter into the joy of thy Lord. [Matt. xxv. 21.] It is not the joy that enters into the blessed soul, but the soul that enters into the joy of God, since the joy of God is the object of the joy of the blessed. Thus the good of God will be the good of the blessed; the riches of God will be their riches, and the happiness of God will be their happiness.
On the instant that a soul enters Heaven, and sees by the light of glory the infinite beauty of God face to face, she is at once seized and all consumed with love. The happy soul is then as it were lost and immersed in that boundless ocean of the goodness of God. Then it is that she quite forgets herself, and inebriated with Divine love, thinks only of loving her God: They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy House. [Ps. xxxv. 9.] As an intoxicated person no longer thinks of himself, so a soul in bliss can only think of loving and affording delight to her beloved Lord; she desires to possess Him entirely, and she does in fact possess Him, without fear of losing Him any more; she desires to give herself wholly to Him, at every moment, and she does indeed possess Him for every moment she offers herself to God without reserve, and God receives her in His loving embraces, and so holds her, and shall hold her in the same fond embraces for all eternity.
In this manner the soul is wholly united to God in Heaven, and loves Him with all her strength; her love is most perfect and complete, and though necessarily finite, since a creature is not capable of infinite love, it nevertheless renders her perfectly happy and contented, so that she desires nothing more. On the other hand, Almighty God communicates Himself, and unites Himself wholly to the soul, filling her with
Himself proportionately to her merits; and this union is not merely by means only of His gifts, lights, and loving attractions, as is the case during the present life, but by His Own very essence. As fire penetrates iron, and seems to change it into itself, so does God penetrate the soul and fill her with Himself; and though she never loses her own being, yet she becomes so penetrated and absorbed by that immense ocean of the Divine substance, that she remains, as it were, annihilated, and as if she ceased to exist. The Apostle prayed for this happy lot for His disciples when He said: That you may be filled unto all the fullness of God. [Eph. iii. 19.]
And this is the last end, which the goodness of God has appointed for us in the life to come. Hence the soul can never enjoy perfect repose on earth; because it is only in Heaven that she can obtain perfect union with God. It is true that the lovers of Jesus Christ find peace in the practice of perfect conformity with the will of God; but they cannot in this life find complete repose; this is only obtained when our last end is obtained; that is, when we see God face to face, and are consumed with His Divine love; and as long as the soul does not reach this end, she is ill at ease, and groans and sighs, saying: Behold, in peace is my bitterness most bitter. [Is. xxxviii. 17.] Yes, O my God, I live in peace in this valley of tears, because such is Thy will; but I cannot help feeling unspeakable bitterness at finding myself at a distance from Thee, and not yet perfectly united with Thee, Who art my centre my all, and the fullness of my repose!
For this reason the Saints, though they were all inflamed with the love of God, did nothing but sigh after Paradise. David cried out: Woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged! [Ps. cxix. 5] I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear. [Ps. xvi. 15.] St. Paul said of himself: Having a desire to be with Christ. [Phil. i 23.] St. Francis of Assisi said:
"I look for such a meed of bliss,
That all my pain seems happiness."
These were all so many acts of perfect charity, The angelic Doctor teaches us, that the highest degree of charity that a soul can reach upon earth, is to desire intensely to go and be united with God, and to enjoy Him in Heaven. But, as we have already seen, this enjoyment of God in Heaven does not consist so much in the fruition of the delights there lavished on her by Almighty God, as in the pleasure she takes in the happiness of God Himself, Whom she loves incomparably more than herself.
The Holy Souls in Purgatory feel no pain more acutely than that of their yearning to possess God from Whom they remain still at a distance. And this sort of pain will afflict those especially who in their lifetime had but little desire of Paradise. Cardinal Bellarmine also says, that there is a certain place in Purgatory called, 'prison of honor,' where certain souls are not tormented with any pain of sense, but merely with the pain of privation of the sight of God; examples of this are related by St. Gregory, Venerable Bede, St. Vincent Ferrer, and St. Bridget; and this punishment is not for the commission of sin, but for coldness in desiring Heaven. Many souls aspire to perfection; but for the rest, they are too indifferent whether they go to enjoy the sight of God, or continue on earth. But eternal life is an inestimable good that has been purchased by the death of Jesus Christ; and God punishes such souls as have been remiss during life in their desires to obtain it.
Affections and Prayers
O God, my Creator and my Redeemer, Thou hast created me for Heaven; Thou hast redeemed me from Hell to bring me into Heaven; and I have so many times, in Thy very face, renounced my claim to Heaven by my sins, and have remained contented in seeing myself doomed to Hell! But blessed forever be Thy infinite mercy, which, I would fain hope, has pardoned me, and many a time rescued me from perdition. Ah, my Jesus, would that I had never offended Thee! Would that I had always loved Thee! I am glad that at least I have still time to do so. I love Thee! O love of my soul, I love Thee with my whole heart; I love Thee more than myself! I see plainly that Thou wishest to save me, that I may be able to love Thee for all eternity in that kingdom of love. I thank Thee, and beseech Thee to help me for the remainder of my life, in which I wish to love Thee most ardently, that I may ardently love Thee in eternity. Ah, my Jesus. When will the day arrive that shall free me from all danger of losing Thee, that shall consume me with love, by unveiling before my eyes Thine infinite beauty, so that I shall be under the necessity of loving Thee? Oh, sweet necessity! Oh, happy and dear and most desired necessity, which shall relieve me from all fear of ever more displeasing Thee, and shall oblige me to love Thee with all my strength! My conscience alarms me, and says: "How canst Thou presume to enter Heaven?" But, my dearest Redeemer, Thy merits are all my hope.
O Mary, Queen of Heaven, thy intercession is all-powerful with God; in thee I put my trust!