BANNER
by Saint Alphonsus Liguori


CHAPTER 7: CHARITY SEEKETH NOT HER OWN  PART 1

(Charitas non quærit qua sua sunt.)

He that loveth Jesus Christ seeks to detach Himself from every Creature.

WHOEVER desires to love Jesus Christ with his whole heart must banish from his heart all that is not God, but is merely self-love. This is the meaning of those words, "seeketh not her own;" not to seek ourselves, but only what pleaseth God. And this is what God requires of us all, when He says: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.
[Matt. xxii. 37.] Two things are needful to love God with our whole heart: 1. To clear it of earth. 2. To fill it with holy love. It follows, that a heart in which any earthly affections linger can never belong wholly to God. St. Philip Neri [Bacci. l. 22, ch. 15.] said, "that as much love as we bestow on the creature, is so much taken from the Creator. In the next place, how must the earth be purged away from the heart? Truly by mortification and kind detachment from creatures. Some souls complain that they seek God, and do not find Him; let them listen to what St. Teresa says: "Wean your heart from creatures, and seek God, and you will find Him." [Avis 36.]

The mistake is, that some indeed wish to become Saints, but after their own fashion, they would love Jesus Christ, but in their own way, without forsaking those diversions, that vanity of dress, those delicacies in food: they love God, but if they do not succeed in obtaining such or such an office, they live discontented; if, too, they happen to be touched in point of esteem, they are all on fire; if they do not recover from an illness, they lose all patience. They love God; but they refuse to let go that attachment for the riches, the honors of the world, for the vainglory of being reckoned of good family, of great learning, and better than others. Such as these practice prayer, and frequent Holy Communion; but inasmuch as they take with them hearts full of earth, they derive little profit. Our Lord does not even speak to them, for He knows that it is but a waste of words. In fact, He said as much to St. Teresa on a certain occasion: "I would speak to many souls, but the world keeps up such a noise about their ears, that My voice would never be heard by them. Oh, that they would retire a little from the world!" Whosoever, then, is full of earthly affections cannot even so much as hear the voice of God that speaks to him. But unhappy the man that continues attached to the sensible goods of this earth; he may easily become so blinded by them as one day to quit the love of Jesus Christ; and for want of forsaking these transitory goods he may lose God, the infinite good, forever. St. Teresa said: "It is a reasonable consequence, that he who runs after perishable goods should himself perish."

St. Augustine
[De Cons. Evang. l. I, C. 12.] informs us that Tiberius Cæsar desired that the Roman senate should enroll Jesus Christ among the rest of their gods; but the senate refused to do so, on the ground that He was too proud a God, and, would be worshipped alone without any companions. It is quite true: God will be alone the object of our adoration and love; not indeed from pride, but because it is His just due, and because too of the love He bears us. For as He Himself loves us exceedingly, He desires in return all our love; and is therefore jealous of anyone else sharing the affections of our hearts, of which He desires to be the sole possessor: "Jesus is a jealous lover," [Ep. ad Eust.] says St. Jerome; and He is unwilling therefore for us to fix our affections on anything but Himself. And whenever He beholds any created object taking a share of our hearts, He looks on it as it were with jealousy, as the Apostle St. James says, because He will not endure a rival, but will remain the sole object of all our love: Do you think that the Scripture saith in vain: To envy doth the Spirit covet which dwelleth in you? [James iv. 5.] The Lord in the sacred Canticles praises His spouse, saying: My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed. [Cant. iv. 12.] He calls her "a garden enclosed," because the soul that is His spouse keeps her heart shut against every earthly love, in order to preserve all for Jesus Christ alone. And does Jesus Christ perchance not deserve all our love? Ah, too much, too much has He deserved it, both for His Own goodness and for His love towards us. The Saints knew this well, and for this reason St. Francis de Sales said: "Were I conscious of one fibre in my heart that did not belong to God, I would forthwith tear it out." [Spirit, ch. 9.]

David longed to have wings free from all lime of worldly affections, in order to flyaway and repose in God: Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest?
[Ps. liv. 7.] Many souls would wish to see themselves released from every earthly trammel to fly to God, and would in reality make lofty flights in the way of sanctity, if they would but detach themselves from everything in this world; but whereas they retain some little inordinate affection, and will not use violence with themselves to get rid of it, they remain always languishing on in their misery, without ever so much as lifting a foot from the ground. St. John of the Cross said: "The soul that remains with her affections attached to anything, however small, will, notwithstanding many virtues which she may possess, never arrive at Divine union; for it signifies little whether the bird be tied by a slight thread or a thick one: since, however slight it may be, provided she does not break it, she remains always bound, and unable to fly. Oh, what a pitiful thing it is to see certain souls, rich in spiritual exercises, in virtues and Divine favors; yet, because they are not bold enough to break off some trifling attachment, they cannot attain to Divine union, for which it only needed one strong and resolute flight to break effectually that fatal thread! Since, when once the soul is emptied of all affection to creatures, God cannot help communicating Himself wholly to her." [Montée du C. l. I, ch. 11.]

He who would possess God entirely must give himself up entirely to God: My beloved to me and I to Him, [Cant. ii. 16.] says the Sacred Spouse. My beloved has given Himself entirely to me, and I give myself entirely to Him. The love which Jesus Christ bears us causes Him to desire all our love; and without all He is not satisfied. On this account we find St. Teresa thus writing to the Prioress of one of her convents: "Endeavor to train souls to a total detachment from everything created, because they are to be trained for the spouses of a King so jealous, that He would have them even forget themselves." St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi took a little book of devotion from one of her novices, merely because she observed that she was too much attached to it. Many souls acquit themselves of the duty of prayer, of visiting the Blessed Sacrament, of frequenting Holy Communion; but nevertheless they make little or no progress in perfection, and all because they keep some fondness for something in their heart; and if they persist in living thus, they will not only be always miserable, but run the risk of losing all.

We must, therefore, beseech Almighty God, with David, to rid our heart of all earthly attachments: Create a clean heart in me, O God.
[Ps. l. 12.] Otherwise we can never be wholly His. He has given us to understand very plainly, that whoever will not renounce everything in this world, cannot be His disciple: Everyone of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth cannot be My disciple. [Luke, xiv. 33.] For this reason the ancient Fathers of the desert were accustomed first to put this question to any youth who desired to associate himself with them: "Dost thou bring an empty heart, that the Holy Spirit may fill it?" Our Lord said the same thing to St. Gertrude, when she besought Him to signify what He wished of her: "I wish nothing else, He said, but to find a heart devoid of creatures." [Insin. l, 4. c. 26.] We must therefore say to God with great resolution and courage: O Lord, I prefer Thee to all; to health, to riches, to honors and dignities, to applause, to learning, to consolations, to high hopes, to desires, and even to the very graces and gifts which I may receive of Thee! In short, I prefer Thee to every created good which is not Thee, O my God. Whatever benefit Thou grantest me, O my God, nothing besides Thyself will satisfy me. I desire Thee alone, and nothing else.

When the heart is detached from creatures, the Divine love immediately enters and fills it. Moreover, St. Teresa said: "As soon as evil occasions are removed, the heart forthwith turns herself to love God." Yes, for the human heart cannot exist without loving; it must either love the Creator or creatures: if it does not love creatures, then assuredly it will love God. In short, we must leave all in order to gain all. "All for all,"  says Thomas
à Kempis, [HERE]. As long as St. Teresa cherished a certain affection, though pure, towards one of her relatives, she did not wholly belong to God; but when afterwards she summoned courage, and resolutely cut off the attachment, then she deserved to hear these words from Jesus: "Now, Teresa, thou art all Mine, and I am all thine." [Life, ch. 39.] One heart is quite too small to love this God, so loving and so lovely, and Who merits an infinite love; and shall we then think of dividing this one little heart between creatures and God? The Venerable Louis da Ponte felt ashamed to speak thus to God: "O Lord, I love Thee above all things, above riches, honors, friends, relatives;" for it seemed to him as much as to say: "O Lord, I love Thee more than dirt, than smoke, and the worms of the earth!"

The Prophet Jeremias says, that the Lord is all goodness towards him who seeks Him: The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him.
[Lam. iii. 25.] But he understands it of a soul that seeks God alone. O blessed loss! O blessed gain! to lose worldly goods, which cannot satisfy the heart and are soon gone, in order to obtain the sovereign and eternal good, which is God! It is related that a pious hermit, one day while the king was hunting through the wood, began to run to and fro as if in search of something; the king, observing him thus occupied, inquired of him who he was and what he was doing; the hermit replied: "And may I ask your majesty what you are engaged about in this desert?" The king made answer: "I am going in pursuit of game." And the hermit replied: "I, too, am going in pursuit of God." With these words he continued his road and went away. During the present life this must likewise be our only thought, our only purpose, to go in search of God in order to love Him, and in search of His will in order to fulfill it, ridding our heart of all love of creatures. And whenever some worldly good would present itself to our imaginations to solicit our love, let us be ready prepared with this answer: "I have despised the kingdom of this world, and all the charms of this life, for the sake of the love of my Lord Jesus Christ." [Offic. nec Virg. nec Mart. resp. 8.] And what else are all the dignities and grandeurs of this world but smoke, filth, and vanity, which all disappear at death? Blessed he who can say: "My Jesus, I have left all for Thy love; Thou art my only love; Thou alone art sufficient for me."

Ah, when once the love of God takes full possession of a soul, she of her own accord (supposing always, of course, the assistance of Divine grace) strives to divest herself of everything that could prove a hindrance to her belonging wholly to God. St. Francis de Sales remarks that when a house catches fire, all the furniture is thrown out of the window;
[Spirit, ch. 27.] meaning thereby, that when a person gives himself entirely to God, he needs no persuasion of preachers or confessors, but of his own accord seeks to get rid of every earthly affection.

Father Segneri the younger called Divine love a robber, which happily despoils us of all, that we may come into possession of God alone. A certain man, of respectable position in life, having renounced everything in order to become poor for the love of Jesus Christ, was questioned by a friend how he fell into such a state of poverty; he took from his pocket a small volume of the Gospels, and said: "Behold, this is what has stripped me of all." The Holy Spirit says: If a man shall give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing.
[Cant. viii. 7.] And when a soul fixes her whole love in God, she despises all, wealth, pleasures, dignities, territories, kingdoms, and all her longing is after God alone; she says, again and again: "My God, I wish for Thee only, and nothing more." St. Francis de Sales writes: [Lettres 531, 203.] "The pure love of God consumes everything which is not God, to convert all into itself; for whatever we do for the love of God is love."

The Sacred Spouse said: He brought me into the cellar of wine, He set in order charity in me.
[Cant. ii, 4.] This cellar of wine, writes St. Teresa, is Divine love, which, on taking possession of a soul, so perfectly inebriates it as to make it forgetful of everything created. A person intoxicated is, as it were, dead in his senses; he does not see, nor hear, nor speak; and so it happens to the soul inebriated with Divine love. She has no longer any sense of the things of the world; she wishes to think only of God, to speak only of God; she recognizes no other motive in all her actions but to love and to please God. In the sacred Canticles the Lord forbids them to awake His beloved, who sleeps. Stir not up, nor make the beloved to awake, till she please. [Cant. ii. 7.] This blessed sleep, enjoyed by souls espoused to Jesus Christ, says St. Basil, is nothing else than "the utter oblivion of all things," [Reg. fus. disp. int. 6.] a virtuous and voluntary forgetfulness of every created thing, in order to be occupied solely with God, and to be able to exclaim with St. Francis, "My God and my all." My God, what are riches, and dignities, and goods of the world, compared with Thee! Thou art my all and my every good. "My God and my all." Thomas à Kempis, writes, "Oh, sweet word! It speaks enough for him who understands it; and to him who loves, it is most delicious to repeat again and again: My God and my all, my God and my all!"

Detachment from Relatives, above all, in regard to one's Vocation.
 
Wherefore, to arrive at perfect union with God, a total detachment from creatures is of absolute necessity, And to come to particulars, we must divest ourselves of all inordinate affection towards relatives. Jesus Christ says: If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
[Luke, xiv. 26.] And wherefore this hatred to relatives? Because generally, as regards the interests of the soul, we cannot have greater enemies than our own kindred: And a man's enemies shall be those of his own household. [Matt. x. 36.] St. Charles Borromeo declared that he never went to pay a visit to his family without returning cooled in fervor. And when Father Antony Mendoza was asked why he refused to enter the house of his parents, he replied, "Because I know, by experience, that nowhere is the devotion of religious so dissipated as in the house of parents."

When, moreover, the choice of a state of life is concerned, it is certain that we are not obliged to obey our parents, according to the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas.
[2. 2, q. 104. a. 5.] Should a young man be called to the religious life, and find opposition from his parents, he is bound to obey God, and not his parents, who, as the same St. Thomas says, with a view to their own interests and private ends, stand in the way of our spiritual welfare. "Friends of flesh and blood are oftentimes opposed to our spiritual profit." [2. 2, q. 189. a. 10.] And they are content, says St. Bernard, [Epist. III.] to have their children go to eternal perdition, rather than leave home. It is surprising, in this matter, to see some fathers and mothers, even though fearing God, yet so blinded by mistaken fondness, that they use every effort, and exhaust every means, to hinder the vocation of a child who wishes to become a religious. This conduct, however (except in very rare cases), cannot be excused from grievous sin.

But some one may say: What, then, and if such a youth does not become a religious, can he not be saved? Are, then, all who remain in the world cast away? I answer, Those whom God does not call into religion may be saved in the world by fulfilling the duties of their state; but those who are called from the world, and do not obey God, may, indeed, possibly be saved; but they will be saved with difficulty, because they will be deprived of those helps which God had destined for them in religion, and for want of which they will not accomplish their salvation. The theologian Habert writes, that he who disobeys his vocation remains in the Church like a member out of joint, and cannot discharge his duty without the greatest pain; and so will hardly effect his salvation. Whence he draws this conclusion: "Although, absolutely speaking, he can be saved, yet he will enter on the way, and employ the means of salvation with difficulty."
[De Ord. p. 3, c. I, § 2.]

The choice of a state of life is compared by Father Louis of Grenada to the mainspring in a watch: if the mainspring be broken, the whole watch is out of order; and the same holds good with regard to our salvation-----if the state of life be out of order, the whole life is out of order too. Alas, how many poor youths have lost their vocation through their parents, and have afterwards come to a bad end, and have themselves proved the ruin of their family! There was a certain youth who lost his religious vocation at the instigation of his father; but in course of time, conceiving a great dislike of this same father, he killed him with his own hand, and was executed for the crime. Another young man, whilst pursuing his studies in the seminary, was also called by God to leave the world; heedless of his vocation, he first left off the devout life he was leading, prayer, Holy Communion, etc.; then he gave himself up to vice; and eventually, as he was one night leaving a house of ill-fame, where he had been, he was murdered by his rival. Several priests ran to the spot, but they found him already dead. And, oh, what a sad catalogue of like examples could I here add!

But to return to our subject. St. Thomas advises those who are called to a more perfect life not to take their parents' advice, because they would be their enemies in such a case.
[Contra retr. a rel. c. 9.] And if children are not bound to take the advice of their parents on their vocation, they are under less obligation of asking or waiting for their permission, particularly when they have reason to fear that they would unjustly refuse their consent, or prevent them from fulfilling their designs. St. Thomas of Aquinas, St. Peter of Alcantara, St. Francis Xavier, St. Louis Bertrand, and many others, embraced a religious state without even acquainting their parents.


BACK  E-MAIL  NEXT


HOME--------------DIRECTORIES-------------CATHOLIC CLASSICS

www.catholictradition.org/Christ/christ7-7a.htm