OUR OBLIGATION TO LOVE JESUS CHRIST
God was not content with bestowing rich favours: His love was not satisfied till He gave us Himself. He hath loved us and delivered himself for us. (Eph. v. 2). From the ruin caused by sin He took occasion to show His love; accursed sin had robbed us of Divine grace, had closed Paradise against us, and made us the slaves of hell. The Lord could have redeemed us from these evils in many ways; but He chose to come in person on this earth, in order to become Man, to redeem us from eternal death, and to obtain for us the Divine friendship and Heaven, which we had lost, exciting by such a prodigy of love, the astonishment of Heaven and creation. How great the wonder which an earthly monarch would excite were he, through love for a slave, to become a slave, or for the sake of a worm to become a worm! But our wonder should be infinitely greater at the sight of the Son of God humbled so as to become Man, for the love of man: He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, . . . and in habit found as man (Phil. ii. 7): at the sight of a God clothed with flesh: And the word was made flesh. (Jo. i. 14).
But the wonder increases when we see all that this Son of God has done and suffered for the love of us miserable worms. To save us it would have been enough to give a single drop of His Blood, to have shed a tear, or to have offered a prayer; for a tear or prayer offered to the Eternal Father, by a God-Man, for our salvation, would have been of infinite value, and therefore sufficient to save the world, and an infinite number of worlds. But no; Jesus Christ wished not only to save us, but through the immense love that He bore us, He wished to gain all our love. Hence, to make us understand the extent of His love, He chose a life of pain and ignominy, and a death the most cruel and shameful of all deaths. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. (Phil. ii. 8).
O God, had our Saviour not been God, but an equal and a friend, what more could He do than give His life for us? Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (Jo. xv. 13). What do you say? Do you believe it? Can you, then, think of loving any other object than Jesus Christ? A certain author says that before the Incarnation of the Word, man might be able to doubt whether God loved him with a tender love; but after the Incarnation and death of Jesus Christ, how is it possible to doubt it? How could He show us greater tenderness of affection than by suffering so many torments, so many insults, and by dying on a Cross? Alas! we have heard of the Incarnation of the Redeemer, of a God born in a stable, of a God scourged, of a God crowned with thorns, and dying on a Cross! O holy Faith enlighten us, and make us understand the excess of love which made our God become Man, and die for the love of us!
But the desire that Jesus Christ had to suffer and die for us should be a subject of still greater astonishment. During His life our Blessed Saviour said: I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized: and how am I straitened until it be accomplished! (Luke xii. 50). I am to be baptised with the baptism of My own Blood, not to wash Myself, but to cleanse men from their sins; and how am I straitened until My desire be accomplished! O God! Jesus Christ is not loved by men, because they will not even think of the love that the amiable Redeemer has borne them. How is it possible for a soul that thinks on His love to live without loving Him? The charity of Christ presseth us. (2 Cor. v. 14). St. Paul says that a soul that reflects on the love of Jesus Christ feels itself, as it were, constrained to love Him. In meditating on the Passion of the Saviour, the Saints were inflamed with love, and sometimes broke out into exclamations of wonder and tenderness. “We have seen,” exclaims St. Laurence Justinian, “the Author of Wisdom become foolish through excess of love.” We have seen a God, as it were, foolish through love for us. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, being one day rapt in an ecstasy, took an image of Jesus crucified into her hands, and cried aloud that He was foolish through love. “Yes, my Jesus,” she continued to exclaim, “Thou art foolish through love. I say, and I will always say: O my Jesus, Thou art foolish through love.”
Had not Faith assured us of this great Mystery of Redemption, who could have believed that the Creator of the universe should voluntarily suffer and die for His own creatures? O God, if Jesus Christ had not died for us, who among men would dare to ask a God to become man, and save us by His death? Would it not have appeared folly even to think of it? And in reality when the Gentiles heard the Apostles preaching the Death of Jesus Christ, they regarded it as a fable, and, as St. Paul attests, called it incredible folly. We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness. (1 Cor. i. 23). Yes, says St. Gregory, it appeared to them folly that the Author of life should die for man. How, said the Gentiles, can we believe that a God Who has need of no one, and is most happy in Himself, should descend from Heaven to earth, assume human flesh, and die for men, His miserable creatures? This would be to believe that a God had become foolish for the love of men. But it is a Truth of Faith that Jesus, the true Son of God, for the love of us, His miserable and ungrateful creatures, has abandoned Himself to torments, to ignominies and to death. He hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us. (Eph. v. 2).
And why has He done so? He has done so, says St. Augustine, that man may understand the immense love that God bears him. And, long before, Jesus Himself said: I am to come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled? (Luke xii. 49). I have, He says, come on earth to kindle the holy fire of Divine love, and I only desire to see the hearts of men burning with its blessed flames. In contemplating Jesus in the Garden, captured as a criminal by the soldiers, St. Bernard, turning to his Lord, exclaimed, “My Jesus, what hast Thou to do with cords and chains?” These belong to us slaves and sinners; but Thou art the King of Heaven, Thou art holy. And what has reduced Thee to the condition of a malefactor, the vilest and most wicked among men? And what has effected all this? Love, which is regardless of dignity when there is question of gaining the affection of the beloved. In a word, concludes the Saint, God, Whom no one can conquer, has been conquered by love; His love for man has made Him take human flesh, and consume His Divine life in a sea of sorrows and reproaches. “Love triumphs over God.”
In another place the same St. Bernard contemplates our Redeemer condemned to death by Pilate, and asks of Jesus Christ: “Tell me, O my beloved Lord, Who art innocence itself, what evil hast Thou done to merit the barbarous sentence of condemnation to the death of the Cross?” But, adds the Saint, I understand the cause of Thy death; the crime of which Thou art guilty is Thy love. Thy offence is the love Thou hast borne to men; it is this, and not Pilate, that condemns Thee to death, and makes Thee die.