The Perfection of Love
TAKEN FROM HOLY COMMUNION
by St. Peter Julian Eymard
Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1940
Suspectus est mihi amor cui aliud quid adispiscendi spes suffragari videtur. Amor habet praemium, sed id quod amatur. Praeter se non requirit causam, non fructum; amo quia amo; amo ut amem.
I distrust that love which seems to be sustained by the hope of obtaining some other reward. The reward of love is the object beloved. It needs no other cause and no other fruit itself; I love because I love; I love that I may love.
(Saint Bernard, 95th Sermon on Cant.)
THERE are two ways to love God. The first way is to love Him for oneself, because of His benefits and the reward He has prepared for us in Heaven. One loves oneself in God; this is love according to the law. It is good, very good, and it is the only love demanded from all of us by the first commandment. Strictly speaking, no more can be exacted from us; possessing it, we are saved. This love glorifies the goodness, the generosity, the munificence of God toward us.
But certain souls to whom God has accorded special favors owe in return a greater debt of gratitude. He has showered graces upon you; He has not given you a mere sufficiency, but a superabundance. In you turn, be not content to be day-laborers, domestics, mercenaries; the graces you have received entitle you to be a child of the family, and the child does not work for gain but for love. Its law is love, and love knows no bounds. "The measure of loving God is to love Him without measure," says Saint Bernard. Modum esse diligendi Deum sine modo diligere. 1 Certainly God has placed no obligation upon us in this regard, but that is because He wishes to grant us the happiness of giving more than He demands. If God is obliged to order us to love Him, why, He shames us! What! Must He say to us, who are intelligent creatures, loaded with His gifts, and well aware of His boundless love for us, must He say to us: "You shall love Me more than creatures, more than gold, more than pleasure, and in exchange for this love I will bring you to My paradise!" Alas, not even this love does God receive from man!
But shall we, whom the good God calls to Him as His friends, be content to give only that much? No, no, God is generous toward us in order that we may be so toward Him. He gives us free scope; let us love Him all we can. Such liberty impels us to heroic love; we wish to surprise Him and please Him, and we do much more than if we acted under orders. Now to us God has said: Sponsabo te mihi in sempiternum. 2 ---- "I will espouse you to Me forever ." And the spouse must give herself wholly to the Bridegroom; for Him she must lose all, leave all, country, parents, family, even her name and individuality. Erunt duo in carne una. 3 ----"They shall be two in one flesh."
"My God, I love Thee for Thyself, and for Thyself alone!" So speaks the pure love of God. This does not exclude Heaven and the hope thereof, but we do not make that our habitual and predominant motive. We know that God will be good and generous to us if we are so toward Him. Yet we say, too: "Even though there were no Heaven to reward my love ---- and that is impossible! ---- I should love Thee all the same, O my God, because, of Thyself, Thou deservest my whole love. My reward is to love Thee. Fructus ejus, usus ejus. 4 ---- Whatever I do, I shall do from love of Thee, to show my love of Thee."
And what is that for a God Who loves us so greatly? Nothing much! We do as much in our earthly affections. Consider the poor children of Paris who work all day long in factories from their tenderest years. They sacrifice themselves for their needy parents, and it seems to them a very simple thing. Their attention is fixed on love, and they are not concerned with what it costs them. Their love is their reward. Amor habet praemium, sed id quod amatur. ---- "The reward of love is the object beloved." Shall we not do as much for God? Shall we give more devotion to our earthly father than to our Father in Heaven? But you also, fathers and mothers, have sacrificed yourselves in the same way for the good of your children, and for them alone! Indeed, everybody does the like. An accident happens to some person in the street, and you run to his aid, though you do not know him and expect not the least reward. Well, then, when God is blasphemed, and Jesus Christ suffers His Passion over again, why do you not suffer for Him? Why do you not sacrifice yourself for His glory?
Let no one say: "I can not reach such heights." The heart's first need is to give more than it is obliged to give. The devil often advises us not to try to practice this devoted love. "It is all right for great Saints," he whispers in our ear, "but it would be pride in you to number yourself with them."
But it is not a matter of pride! Love without calculation, and rest assured that the more you love in that way, the more clearly you will realize your nothingness and the sanctity and majesty of God,
How illogical people are! One hears continually: "I just want to stay at our Lord's feet; I am unworthy of a higher place!" At our Lord's feet, you say? But that is the holy Virgin's place! Do you think you are worthy of it?
Do not be guided so much by what you have a right to, or by what you deserve, but think rather: "I have not done enough; I must do more and more every day!" No one here on earth deserves to be loved for himself alone, but only as he bears the impress of God's likeness. But God is our supreme goal and deserves to be loved for Himself; He is Sanctity, uncreated and infinite Love. Know Him and love Him as you may, ever more and more, still you will never succeed in loving Him as He deserves. One who is given to prayer grows continually in love because he comprehends better what God is. He comes to love Him through Jesus Christ Himself, Who inspires his love and clothes it with His infinite merits. He comes to love God with a love in some sort infinite, a love that can not be worthily recompensed except by an infinite and eternal reward. It is Jesus Who loves in him.
Love, therefore! Give constantly without being afraid our Lord has had enough. He places no limits to the love to which He calls His friends: "Love Me as My Father hath loved Me and as I love you. Live and abide in the infinite love with which I love My Father." Oh, let us, then, love God for Himself because of His transcendent goodness, because He deserves it, and let us make this love the guiding and ruling motive of our life!
TO THAT end, first of all, do everything for the glory of God, paying Him homage for all that is good in you and in your works. Why this sacrifice? To give thanks to the Divine Goodness and glorify God's love. Make this acknowledgment of His goodness frequently; praise Him and thank Him again and again; exalt Him not so much for what He is to give you hereafter, but because He is good, holy, and happy in Himself, because He makes known to you His goodness and happiness, and graciously manifests Himself to you.
Secondly, let His will be the sovereign guide of all your actions. In every thing that happens, say without hesitation or regret: "It is God's will, and therefore mine. His will is the expression of His goodness toward me." Discharge all your duties with this thought in mind. Why does God will one thing instead of another? That does not trouble me; to ask Him would show a lack of respect and confidence. Is He not Goodness and Wisdom? Does He not wish my good and His Own glory? Is there anything that is not foreseen by Him? To wish to know the motives of the Divine will is, in effect, to obey only one's own will.
It is enough for you to know God wills a certain thing: nothing else need concern you. But that is hard! What of it? It is the concern of the good God. It is Thy will, my God! That is enough: the rest will take care of itself.
This is blind and passive obedience; we obey for no other reason than that God is our Master. Our Lord acted in the same way all His life. "I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. ... I do nothing of Myself, but as the Father hath taught Me, these things I speak." 5 He came down to earth, not of Himself but sent by His Father, to do in all things, freely and lovingly, His holy will.
How shall you know the will of God? In the first place, you have your duties to perform, all the duties of your state of life, whatever they may be. When duty is silent, in your moments of leisure, you will do even more if you love God; you will do what will please Him most. The loving soul says: "I wish to love God more than myself. Of two acts that bring me to Him, one is harder for me but more pleasing to our Lord; so I will do that." And there is no inward struggle, no hesitation. Such a soul wishes beforehand, in all things, to do what pleases God most. He who gives reluctantly has not true family spirit. Hilarem datorem diligit Deus. 6 ---- "God loveth a cheerful giver." If you do what pleases you most and costs you least, you are satisfying your own self-love. Nothing is too hard for the soul that loves. When it costs you dear to give a certain gift to God, it would be better not to give it than to give unwillingly. I am not speaking here of the carnal nature of man. It is always complaining and must complain, for you are torturing it by depriving it of all it desires. Let it cry out, therefore. But the superior will, the spiritual man, must give without regret. How many difficult sacrifices we make in the natural life! And we make them without reproaching those who ask them of us. Surely, God deserves that we act toward Him with the same generosity!
Finally, the loving soul is able to put all its love into acts that call for sacrifice. Herein lies the very perfection of love. Heretofore, the soul, though it did not seek itself, still found itself. For to work for the glory of God is heartening and consoling. And there is happiness in submitting our will to God's will. It gives us a feeling of safety, and we go on our way untroubled, filled with a Divine peace. Close conformity to the will of God appeases the curiosity of the mind, tranquilizes the affections of the heart, even quiets the senses. We may suffer momentarily from one thing or another, but peace really reigns inwardly, for there is war only where God is not in command.
But now, pure love finds its exercise in acts of immolation. The basic principle is that pure love is born only from the sacrifice of the entire self in all things; voluntary sacrifice and suffering are its essence. Our Lord expressed the same thing in these words: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends." 7
When the soul has given itself up to God, He makes it suffer, and will make it suffer constantly. This will be hard! In order to take complete possession of the soul, God annihilates it, as it were, and takes its place. And as it is continually assailed by the temptation to find itself again, God gives combat, makes it suffer; He effaces the spirit, stifles the heart.
When the spirit will not surrender unconditionally, God plunges it into darkness, into temptations against faith, and hope, and confidence. All peace is lost until the mind surrenders and totally renounces its own lights. Against such a state, the director can do nothing. He reasons; he discourses on the goodness of God, which the soul, alas, can no longer see. It is terrified by the past and trembles for the present. What is to be done? Accept everything. God wills this state for you and does not tell you why. He is waiting for you to say to Him: "I am nothing but sin; I give myself up to Thee; do with me as Thou wilt. Thou desirest me to suffer inner turmoil and torture? Very well; that is my desire, too. Unable to see any good actions to offer Thee, I shall bring to Thee the misery Thou showest me. Though I shall not love my misery, nevertheless I shall glorify Thee by it." And the good God is still with you at that very moment. He wishes you to be like this; what does anything else matter? Above all, do not examine your state too closely, thinking God is abandoning you, wondering what will become of you; you might lose your mind. God wants to know whether you love Him more than your own will, spiritualized though it be. So be at peace. Even tormented as you are, you glorify Him. And do you desire any other thing than His glory?
And your heart, so tender by nature! Awhile ago it was in paradise; now it is cold and suffering. It will seem like blasphemy to say, "My God, I love Thee!" What shall you do? Will you reason with your heart, force it? That will but serve to aggravate your trouble. Then say to God: "When I felt the sweetness of love for Thee, O my God, I was very happy. Now I am in a land of desolation, where no water is. But oh, I will love Thee more than I love the sweetness of Thy love! My heart tells me I do not love Thee; but I will love Thee in spite of my heart. I will love Thee with my will!"
God sends these terrible trials upon every soul He wishes to draw to Himself, and He does it not for Himself, but to help us win greater merit. He loves to see us increase in merit and in glory: therefore He makes us suffer. You will know this state comes from God if it persists in spite of all the means you employ against it. Then you must say to God: "Thou wilt have me to love Thee more than my entire spiritual life? So be it. I will let myself be buried alive!" We must come to this if we wish to be united to God. He wants gold, not earth nor alloy. Union with God is welded in fire. When God brings the soul to this way of life, it acquires an incredible inner liberty, a liberty independent of every religious practice, of every particular religious state. Its state is its life. Who, then, can bring the soul out of a state to which it has been brought by God Himself?
"What!" you say. "Deprive oneself of all action, of all initiative? Why, one would become stupid!" No, it is God's way with chosen souls. Does He not give them all possible love? Be content to love yourself as God loves you and entrust yourself wholly to Him.
Say to Him with Saint Bonaventure: "I know Thou lovest me more than I can love myself;
therefore I will give no thought to myself any more; I will occupy my thoughts entirely with Thee" ---- Scio quia plus quam ego me diligis. De me igitur amplius non curabo, sed solum tuis deliciis inhaerebo: et tu mei curam habeto." 8
1. On the love God, Ch. VI.
2. Osee 2:19.
3. Gen. 2:24.
4. Saint Bernard, 83rd Sermon.
5. John 17:4; 8:28.
6. 2 Cor. 9:7.
7. John 15:13.
8. Stimulus amoris.