Love is our law: God is our portion; here by faith, in heaven by sight.
The Christian law is a law of love. It is all comprised in the love of God. We are bound to love Him for Himself, ourselves in Him, and our neighbours for Him. God is the one principle, from Whom everything flows, and towards Whom everything must tend. He is the centre in Whom all things find their unity.
Love, says St. Augustine, is the only worship God exacts, and which alone is pleasing to Him. Faith alone does not honour God -the devils believe and tremble. Hope without love is not enough, because it stops short at God's promises without going on to Himself. Charity alone reaches Him, is united to Him, and rests in Him as in the supreme Good. What avails the practice of exterior works, if they are not animated and quickened by the heart? Men only pay attention to outward demonstrations, and they judge the heart by them, for they cannot see any deeper. But God looks upon the heart. According to the state of the heart, He appraises all else.
Love is the only thing that makes Our Lord's yoke easy and His burden light. Fear causes us to feel the whole weight of the law; hope lightens it, but in part; love alone removes the whole burden of it. According to St. Augustine, the lover feels nothing burdensome to him, or if it be a burden, he loves it. The lover counts what he does as nothing, fears lest he does not enough, and longs ever to do more. Love knows no bounds, and is always able to grow stronger, above all if its object be infinitely lovable. To love such an object is at once a motive and a means to love it more. The more it is loved, the better is it known; and the better it is known, the more one longs to love it. In this way, knowledge and love serve to increase one another indefinitely.
The soul enjoys the true liberty of the children of God, only in so far as it loves. 'Love,' says St. Augustine, 'and do what you will'. You would not wish to do anything contrary to love, nor therefore to a law which is itself wholly founded on love. In the same way, St. Paul says that the law is not made for the just. Why does the just man need an external law; he finds all the precepts written in his heart? And not only does he find there the law, but the perfection of the law. Love would not have him stop short at what God commands: it urges him to pass on to those things which please Him, to what He counsels without expressly commanding. Love is his rule, his whole desire, his whole strength. That is why he is perfectly free, for freedom consists in doing what we will, and in willing what we do.
Such love is all the purer, as the heart becomes detached from its own interests and tends towards the object loved, without looking back on itself. This degree of purity is the state to which God is continually striving to raise the soul that has given itself to Him. All the favours which He has bestowed on it, the trials through which He has caused it to pass, the sacrifices He exacts of it, all combine to purify its love, and to separate all alloy from it. Thus may the interior way be defined, not as a state of pure love, but as a constant tending towards it.
It may be said that the tending towards pure love is also the aim of the ordinary Christian, and I agree: but with a distinction. If, in the normal way, retaining our liberty, we mingle our own activity with the workings of grace, this will hinder those workings from producing their full effect. In the passive way, however, having given to God all right over our own will, God acts upon us more powerfully; nothing hinders or restrains His work, and therefore it achieves its full effect. It is difficult, not to say impossible, for this difference to be understood by those who are not in the passive way, however perfect they may be otherwise. But it is nonetheless real, and it would be presumptuous to doubt the word of those saints who have spoken on the matter from their own experience.
However, we are not to take fright at the mention of pure love, as though it were contrary to Christian hope. Those who have so written as to give this impression either expressed themselves badly or were misunderstood. In this life, charity does not, and never can, exclude hope. So long as we do not possess the thing we love, we must desire to do so. And not only desire it, but hope for it, in virtue of God's promises. And we count it a duty to hope for it, by reason of the express command which He lays upon all His children.
The love of God is not such as to exclude hope, no matter to what degree it has arrived, but is the actual possession of God or the assurance of possessing Him. The actual possession only takes place in heaven, the assurance in Purgatory. Here on earth, where the enjoyment of God is neither perfect nor assured, and where, apart from a special revelation, one cannot even be sure of one's salvation or that one is in a state of grace, how is it possible for charity to banish hope from the Christian heart? To do so would be to enter on a state of despair absolutely incompatible with love.
In this life, charity always implies the other two theological virtues; and, far from destroying them, perfects them in perfecting itself. Anything that could destroy faith and hope in us would all the more destroy charity. It is absurd, then, to think that the trials that are sent to purify our love can in any way lessen the virtue of hope. It is equally absurd to imagine that there can be such a thing as a state, or even an act, of pure love, which would involve a renouncement of hope. Even if hope may not be the motive for the love, nevertheless it exists at the bottom of the heart. In the words of St. Paul: there remain faith, hope and charity. This is the case even with the greatest saints, so long as they are still pilgrims in via. It is only at the end of their pilgrimage that faith ceases, because one no longer believes, but sees clearly. Similarly hope comes to an end, because one either possesses or is assured of possessing. So charity reigns alone, since in heaven there is scope only for charity. Such is St. Paul's teaching; a doctrine, incidentally, based on the very essence and definition of the three theological virtues.
The fact that God urges certain souls to sacrifices in their most severe trials, proves nothing to the contrary of what I have been saying. God's intention is not to purify love at the expense of hope (for that would be acting contrary to Himself), but, while purifying love to purify hope at the same time, and so lead the soul to place God's glory and will above all self-interest. This does not require the soul to renounce its happiness, but to subordinate it, as it must be subordinated, to God's good pleasure, which must always be its motive.
It might perhaps have been better not to have touched on these matters, which are extremely delicate and very difficult to explain, or even to understand with perfect precision. It is not necessary that souls should know about these things in advance, because those whom God calls to such a great sacrifice are few and far between; and when they are in this state, their perplexity and darkness are such that they could not make use of their previous knowledge, even if they wanted to. As for the directors of such souls, God never fails, provided they consult Him in prayer, to give them the necessary light to guide their penitents, and the best books would be useless to them, if they did not seek that light in their own union with God. But as this subject, which is the highest of all relating to the interior life, caused much public comment at the end of the seventeenth century, and in consequence of a just condemnation many persons became prejudiced against a subject understood by very few, I have thought fit to explain the matter briefly, in order to correct certain false impressions, and to dispel prejudice.
The great and inestimable advantage of love is that it leads to the eternal possession of God: this is the privilege of love alone. Faith and hope cannot open the gate to heaven, unless charity be joined to them. Even during this life, love enables us to possess God to a certain degree, for loving Him is the beginning of possession. We may love any other object without possessing it, or possess it without loving it. But God, Who is the supreme Good, has this peculiar to Himself alone: His love cannot be separated from the possession of Him, nor the possession of Him from His love.
Of course such possession is imperfect on earth, because it is enjoyed beneath the veil of faith. The heart delights in God, and is filled with Him and contemns everything else. If it have yet any desire left, it can only be for a fuller and more assured enjoyment of that love. Yes: when the love of God reaches a certain point, it stills all the agitations of the human heart, even in this life. It brings a peace, which cannot be troubled, so long as the love subsists which gave it birth.
But who are those in whom love rises to such a height as to give them, even in this land of exile, a foretaste of the happiness of their heavenly home? They are souls who may justly be termed children of God, because they are led by His Spirit. As sons, they already share in their Father's inheritance. Others partake of His gifts and graces; these enter already into an anticipated possession of Himself. Having given themselves to God, God gives Himself wholly to them. He unites them with Himself, communicating to them something of that changelessness of peace and rest which He Himself enjoys.
And the proof of this is that no earthly happenings of any kind cause them either joy or sorrow. They accept all things with an even mind, and though some slight agitation may take place on the surface of their souls, the depths of the soul are undisturbed. I have only to appeal to the experience of the saints. Were there ever souls more calm and still? One has only to look at their serenity in the midst of the most painful tortures. Was it the effect of their own reflections or efforts at self-control, made at such moments? Indeed no: they owed it to their possession of God, Who so filled their hearts that there was no room left for any other feeling or thought of self.
John Nicholas Grou S.J. (1731-1803)
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