Spiritual Reading for Passion Sunday ~ St Alphonsus Liguori

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The first and principal command that the Lord imposes on us all is to love Him with our whole heart; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart. (Deut. vi. 5). Because He loves us intensely, He wishes to be loved ardently by us. Hence, He so pressingly demands our love and calls for our heart: My son, give me thy heart. (Prov. xxiii. 26). And what, says Moses, does the Lord demand of you, but that you love him with your whole heart. What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but that thou love him, and serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart. (Deut. x. 12). To our love He promises Himself as a reward. I am thy reward exceeding great. (Gen. xv. i). To their faithful subjects the monarchs of the earth give riches and honours; but to those who love Him our God gives nothing less than Himself. But though our love should receive no other reward, for us it should be enough to know that God loves those that love Him. He frequently declares in the Scriptures that He loves all who love Him. I love them that love me. (Prov. viii. 17). In another place He says: He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him. (1 Jo. iv. 16). And Jesus Christ has said: He that loveth me, shall be loved by my Father; and I will love him. (Jo. xiv. 21).

All our perfection, then, consists in the love of God; for, as St. Augustine says, love is the only virtue that unites us to God. All other virtues, without charity, profit us nothing; but charity brings with it all virtues; for, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. xiii. 4)–it is patient, it is kind, it is not puffed up, it is not ambitious of honours, it seeks not its own interest, but suffers all things, believes all things, and hopes for all things. Love, says the same Apostle, is the fulfilment of the law. (Rom. xiii. 10). Hence, St. Augustine said: “Love, and do what you wish”  “Ama, et fac quod, vis.” He that loves another is careful not to give him the least displeasure, and studies to do everything in his power to please him. Hence, also, the soul that loves God abhors as death the smallest offence against His Divine Majesty, and endeavours to the best of her ability to please Him.

Let it be remembered that perfect charity consists in loving God for His own sake. To love God as the Author of our felicity is the love of concupiscence, which, strictly speaking, belongs not to charity, but to hope; to love God because He deserves to be loved, because He is Infinite Goodness, is the love of friendship, or true charity. But it is necessary to observe that hope is in no way opposed, nor any obstacle to perfect charity. In admitting a state of charity that excluded all hope the Bishop of Cambrai fell into an error which was condemned. We love God, because on account of His perfections He deserves to be loved, and we would love Him though there were no reward for loving Him; but since He wishes to give us a reward, and even commands us to hope for it, we are bound to hope for it and to desire it. Besides, to desire Paradise in order to possess God, and to love Him better, is true and perfect charity; for eternal glory is the consummation of love. There the soul, entirely forgetful of herself, and divested of all self-love, loves God with all her strength, and with a most pure love; it is thus that the Saints in bliss happily lose themselves in God.

If we knew that in an earthly kingdom there was a prince, beautiful, holy, and learned, kind and merciful, surely he would win our affection, though he had conferred no favour upon us. But what are the amiable qualities of such a prince compared with the perfections of God? God possesses all perfections, and possesses them in an infinite degree. He has all the qualities that can render Him amiable: He is infinite goodness, infinite beauty, infinite wisdom, and infinite mercy. Hence His goodness of itself merits all our love. In the Lives of the Fathers of the Desert it is related that in the desert there were two monks who were brothers; to one of them the devil said that the other was doomed to perdition. The simple monk believed the fiend and was greatly afflicted. Being asked one day the cause of his affliction, he answered that it was revealed to him that his brother was doomed to hell. He then humbly answered: “If such be the will of the Lord, may it be forever blessed; but still I will love Him to the utmost of my power in this life, for I love Him neither through fear of hell, nor through the hope of Heaven, but only because He deserves to be loved.” On the following night an Angel appeared to the deluded monk and told him that his brother’s name was written among the number of the Elect.

We should, therefore, love God because He deserves to be loved on account of His infinite perfections. We should love Him at least through gratitude for the love that He has borne us.

If the affections of all men, of all the Angels, and of all the Saints, were united together, they would not equal the smallest part of the love that God bears to a single soul. St. John Chrysostom says that God loves us more than we love ourselves. I, says God Himself to each of us, have loved you from eternity, and through pure love have drawn you out of nothing, and have placed you in this world. I have loved thee with an everlasting love. (Jer. xxxi. 3). Our parents were the first to love us in this world; but they loved us only after they had known us; but God loved us before we had existence. Our fathers or mothers were not yet born, and God loved us; the world was not yet created, and God loved us; and how long before the creation of the world did He love us? Perhaps a thousand years or a thousand ages? It is useless to multiply years and ages; for God has loved us as long as He has been God; He has loved us as long as He has loved Himself. Hence the holy virgin St. Agnes had reason to say: “I am prevented by another Lover.” When the world and creatures sought her love, she answered: No, I cannot love you; since my God has been the first to love me, it is but just that I consecrate my whole heart to Him alone.

Our God, then, has loved us as long as He has been God; and through pure love has drawn us out of nothing; and among so many possible beings that He could, but never will create, He has chosen us and has placed us in this world. For the love of us, He has also created so many other beautiful creatures–the heavens, the hills, the seas, the fountains, and all other creatures that are on this earth.

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