THE MEANS TO ACQUIRE THE PERFECT LOVE OF GOD
To acquire the perfect love of God we must adopt the means of becoming saints.
The first means is, to detach the heart from all creatures, and to banish from the soul every affection which is not for God. The first question which the Ancient Fathers of the Desert used to put to every one who sought admission into their society was: “Do you bring an empty heart, that the Holy Ghost may be able to fill it?” If the world be not expelled from the heart, God cannot enter it. St. Teresa said: “Detach the heart from creatures; seek God, and you shall find Him.” St. Augustine writes, that the Romans worshipped thirty thousand gods; but among these gods the Roman Senate refused to admit Jesus Christ. Because, said they, He is a proud God, Who requires that He alone should be adored. This they had reason to say, for our God wishes to have entire possession of our souls. He is, as St. Jerome says, a jealous God. And therefore He will have no rival in the affections of our heart. Hence the spouse in the Canticles is called an enclosed garden. My sister, my spouse is a garden enclosed (Cant. iv. 12). The soul, then, that wishes to belong entirely to God must be closed to all love which is not for God.
Hence the Divine Spouse is said to be wounded by one of the eyes of His spouse. Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes (Cant. iv. 9). One of her eyes signifies, that in all her thoughts and actions the only end of the spouse is to please God, while, in their devout exercises, worldlings propose to themselves different objects — sometimes their own interest, sometimes to please their friends, and sometimes to please themselves. But the Saints seek only to please God, to Whom they turn, and say: What have I in heaven? and besides thee, what do I desire upon earth? … Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever (Ps. lxxii. 25). We should do the same if we wished to be saints. If, says St. John Chrysostom, we do a thing to please God, why should we seek any other reward? Or what greater reward can a creature wish for than to please its Creator? Hence, in all we desire or do, we should seek nothing but God. A certain solitary, named Zeno, walking through the desert, absorbed in meditation, met the Emperor Macedonius going to hunt. The Emperor asked him what he was doing. In answer, the solitary said: You go in quest of game; I seek God alone. St. Francis de Sales used to say, that the pure love of God consumes all that is not God.
Moreover, to love God with our whole heart, it is necessary to love Him without reserve. Hence we must love Him with a love of preference. We must prefer Him before every other good, and must be resolved to lose a thousand lives, rather than forfeit His friendship. We must say with St. Paul: Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God (Rom. viii. 38). We must also love Him with a love of benevolence, desiring to see Him loved by all; and therefore, if we love God, we should seek as much as possible to kindle in others the fire of His love, or, at least, should pray for the conversion of all who do not love Him. We must love Him with a love sorrowful, that regrets every offence offered to Him more than any evil we could suffer. We must love Him with a love of conformity to the Divine will. The principal office of love is to unite the wills of the lovers, and to make the soul say: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? (Acts ix. 6). Lord, tell me what Thou dost wish from me; I desire to do it. I have no wish of my own: I will only what Thou willest. Hence, we ought frequently to offer ourselves to God, without reserve, that He may do with us, and with all we have, whatever pleases Him. We must love God with a love of patience. This is that strong love by which true lovers are known. Love is strong as death (Cant. viii. 6). “There is nothing so difficult,” says St. Augustine, “that the fire of love will not conquer it.” For, adds the Saint, in doing what we do for the love of God, labour is not felt, or, if it be felt, the very labour is loved. St. Vincent de Paul used to say that love is measured by the desire of the soul to suffer and be humbled, in order to please God.
Let God be pleased, though it should cost us the loss of all things even our life. To gain all, it is necessary to leave all. All for All, said Thomas a Kempis. The reason we do not become saints, as St. Teresa says, is because, as we do not give God all our affections, so He does not give us His perfect love. We must, then, say with the spouse in the Canticles: My Beloved to me, and I to him (Cant. ii. 16). My Beloved has given Himself entirely to me: it is but just that I give myself without reserve to Him. St. John Chrysostom says, that when a soul gives herself entirely to God, she no longer frets about ignominies or sufferings; she loses the desire of all things; and not finding repose in any creature, she is always in search of her Beloved; her sole concern is to find her Beloved.