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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHRIST, OUR TREMENDOUS LOVER

The whole plan of our Lord’s life and the whole manner of His death are designed to show forth His love for men. Through love He became man for us, through love He worked for us, through love He lived for us, through love He suffered for us, and through love He died for us. With St. Paul, each of us can say: “He loved me and delivered himself for me” (Gal 2:20). The whole plan of our spiritual life is a loving union and intimate partnership with Jesus in which we return Him love for love. We can picture that union in three ways: as the life of Christ in us; as our life in Christ; or as what we might call a “shoulder to shoulder” partnership with Jesus, a constant companionship of two lovers sharing every thought and every deed. Each of these pictures corresponds to a true aspect of the reality, the intimacy of which is so extraordinary that it defies description.

In this book we have started with the organic unity of the Mystical Body into which men are incorporated at baptism. We have considered the spiritual life as a development of that union and a removal of the obstacles to perfect harmony and unity caused by our self-love and self-centeredness. At the same time we had no hesitation in describing the spiritual life as a quest for God—for Jesus—regarded for the moment as apart from oneself; and there is no real contradiction in doing so. What we wished to emphasize is that there is no intimacy or perfection of union between ourselves and our beloved that is not open to every soul. For love demands union and only seeks the beloved to become one with Him. The very sacrament of Holy Communion is a pledge not only of the possibility of such union but even of our Lord’s burning desire to effect it to an undreamed-of degree. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). To stress the possibility of that union, we showed that it commenced even in baptism; and we have insisted throughout this book that the summit of sanctity, as Pius XI declared, is open to every Christian and that nothing extraordinary is required to achieve it, contrary to what is often thought; for the essential points of the spiritual life, which are necessary for every Christian and which will suffice to make a saint, are: faith, hope, charity, humility, and generous cooperation with and abandonment to the will of God.

Our Lord has left nothing undone to make that achievement easy. We have His own word for it, and surely we can take God at His word! “Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light” (Mt 11:28–30).

As we have seen, He has lived our life for us. He has taken our sins and weakness upon Himself and blotted them out by the Cross. He has given us His own merits, His own life, His own strength, His very self. He has given us His own Mother that she might unite us to Him. He has foreseen all the details of all our life and provided for every single one of them. To take but one example, He has provided for the happiness and the holiness of marriage, that great triumph of the commonplace, by first of all giving us an example—for He entered into a marriage with His Church, and loved Her and delivered Himself for Her—and then has given us Himself in the sacraments that we might have the strength and the means to imitate that example, for He is in each partner to love and to be loved. He loved us and delivered Himself for us; He has commanded us to love one another as He has loved us, and then in the Blessed Sacrament He gives Himself to us, daily if we will, with His own power of loving so that we might fulfill His commandment. More than that, He has invented an eighth “sacrament”—one might say—inasmuch as He so identifies Himself with our neighbor that not only is He in us to love, but He is in our neighbor to be loved, for whatever is done to the neighbor is done to Christ. Perhaps we may now glimpse some shadow of the hidden meaning in the extraordinary phrase of St. Augustine: “There shall be one Christ loving Himself.”[170]

He has given us an example of complete devotion to God His Father in adoration and love. He has sacrificed Himself that the Father might receive a perfect sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, of adoration and satisfaction, of atonement and impetration. He has made that sacrifice ours for our daily use in the Mass. He offers us with Himself in the Mass in a complete surrender of devotion to God the Father, and then in the Communion of the same Mass, He gives Himself in a complete surrender to us, so that we may be able to live the Mass and carry out what we have promised. In the Mass He puts the fruit of His whole life at our disposal; His adoration and thanksgiving, His praise and satisfaction, His atonement and impetration are ours without limit, so that we may walk with Him before God and be perfect. The more we give ourselves to Him in the Mass, the more He gives Himself to us in Holy Communion.

In giving Himself to us, He gives us His Holy Spirit to dwell in our souls, as a permanent friend and source of strength and light—as the soul, one might say, of our soul—so that we might be completely one with Himself living in the unity of the same Holy Spirit. He has made the whole spiritual life a partnership with Himself, making us part of Himself, and reduced our share in the work of the partnership to a minimum. In fact, to repeat Father Clerissac’s words: “It is our emptiness and trust that He needs, not our plenitude.”[171] All He asks is that we put our faith and hope in Him, that we love Him with our whole heart, that we renounce our own pretended strength and our foolish plans by humility and abandonment; He will do the rest.

Truly He can say to us in gentle reproach: “What is there that I ought to do more for my vineyard, that I have not done to it? Was it that I looked that it should bring forth grapes and it hath brought forth wild grapes?” (Is 5:4). There is a tragic note in His reproach; for it was for the sake of our happiness, rather than His own, that He loved us. He knew that He alone could make us happy. He knew the secret longings of our hearts better than we ourselves. He knew that to be without Him would be a grievous hell, to be with Him sweet paradise. He knew, too, that many souls would never understand the fearful suffering which eternal separation from Him would cause, and in showing to them the lesser sufferings of the fires of Hell, He hopes to deter them from ruining their eternal happiness, even though He sees the danger that they may regard Him rather as an angry and stern judge than as their ardent and merciful lover—as someone to be dreaded rather than to be desired.

Yet all that was not enough. During the centuries He has shown to some of His favorite friends that symbol of His love that we now know as the Sacred Heart. The Cistercian nuns, St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde, have told us of the wonders of His love. But less than three hundred years ago, He came to His loving servant, St. Margaret Mary—and as Pius XI tells us in his encyclical on the Sacred Heart:[172]

Though He insisted on the immensity of His love, at the same time, with sorrowful mien, He grieved over the great number of horrible outrages heaped on Him by the ingratitude of mankind. He used the words—words which should be graven on the hearts of all pious souls so as never to be forgotten by them: “Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much, and has loaded them with every favor; and for this boundless love has had not merely no return of gratitude, but, on the contrary, forgetfulness, neglect, contumely, and that, at times, at the hands of those who were bound by the debt and duty of a special love.”[173]

Elsewhere we read the further complaints made to St. Margaret Mary by our Lord: “If thou didst but know how I thirst to be loved by men, thou wouldst spare nothing that this might be accomplished. I thirst, I burn with the desire of being loved. Behold this Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing to testify its love for them, even to exhausting and consuming itself.” And telling her of the ingratitude and forgetfulness that has been the return He received for the extremes to which He had carried His love, He continues: “And this I felt more acutely than all I suffered in My Passion, in so much that if they rendered Me some return of love, I should esteem all that I have done for them as but little, and would do, if it were possible, more for them. But they have nothing but coldness and rebuffs for all My eagerness to do them good.” Is not this an echo of the tearful plaint over Jerusalem, “If thou hadst known. . . . And thou wouldst not!”

It is significant that this revelation of His desire to be loved and of His plan to use St. Margaret Mary as the means of spreading the devotion of love of the Sacred Heart was accompanied by a mutual exchange of hearts, wherein He substituted His own Heart for that of the Saint. He first explained to her: “My divine Heart is so inflamed with love for men, and for you in particular, that not being able any longer to restrain within Itself the flames of ardent charity, it must spread them everywhere, through your means, and manifest itself to men that they may be enriched with its precious fullness.” He then exchanged hearts with the saint and explained that His Heart would supply for all she lacked, even to the extent of giving her the power to offer Him the reparation of love for which He thirsted. His reply to her objection is enlightening. “But, O Lord,” exclaimed St. Margaret, “why dost Thou address Thyself to so miserable a creature, to so poor a sinner, that by her un-worthiness she is calculated to hinder the accomplishment of Thy designs, when Thou hast so many generous souls to execute Thy desires?” He replied: “Dost thou not know that I make use of the weakest subjects to confound the strong—that it is generally in the most insignificant and the poor in spirit that I manifest My power, in order that they may attribute nothing to themselves?”[174]

These are but private revelations. But the devotion they indicate has the authority of the Church, and Pope Pius XI quoted in his encyclical the first words given above. We have added, without attending to their order or their exact authenticity, other expressions recorded by the saint. Their value lies in the fact that they sum up in an expressive way the whole Christian tradition. The last reply above is an echo of St. Paul:

But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of this world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and the things that are not, that he might bring to naught the things that are: that no flesh should glory in his sight. But of him, are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification and redemption, that, as it is written: He that glorieth, may glory in the Lord. (1 Cor 1:27–31)

In the encyclical which we have quoted, Pope Pius XI lays down certain principles that are of great importance in our spiritual life and are closely concerned with what we have written in earlier chapters. The first is the principle of solidarity, by which our good works and sufferings are of avail for our fellow men.

A wondrous bond joins all the faithful to Christ, the same bond which unites the Hand with the other members of the Body, namely, the communion of saints, a bond full of mystery which we believe in as Catholics and by virtue of which, individuals and nations are not only united to one another, but likewise with the head itself, “who is Christ, from whom the whole body being compacted and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity” (Eph 5:15–16). Thus, too, was the prayer of which Jesus Christ Himself, the Mediator between God and men, at the hour of His death, made to the Father, “I in them and Thou in Me: that they may be made perfect in one” (Jn 17:23). As an act of consecration proclaims and confirms our union with Christ, so the act of expiation, by purifying us from our sins, is the beginning of such union; our participation in the sufferings of Christ perfects it, the offering we make to Him of our sacrifices for the welfare of our brethren brings such union to its final consummation.[175]

The second relates to the influence which our deeds can have on the sufferings of Christ. The pope faces the question: “How can we believe that Christ reigns happily in heaven if it is possible to console Him by such acts as those of reparation?” He answers in the language of St. Augustine: “The soul which truly loves, will comprehend what I say.” And he points out that Christ was “bruised for our sins . . .” so that:

Even sins committed now would be able of themselves to cause Christ to die a death accompanied by the same sufferings and agonies as His death on the Cross, since every sin must be said to renew in a certain way the Passion of our Lord, “crucifying again to themselves the Son of Man and making Him a mockery” (Heb 6:6). And if, in view of our own future sins, foreseen by Him, the Soul of Jesus became sad even unto death, there can be no doubt that by His prevision at the same time of our acts of reparation He was in some way comforted when “there appeared to Him an angel from Heaven” to console that Heart of His, bowed down with sorrow and anguish.

At the present time, we too, in a marvelous but no less true manner, may and ought to console that Sacred Heart which is being wounded continually by the sins of thoughtless men, since Christ Himself grieved over the fact that He was abandoned by His friends. For He said, in the words of the Psalmist (Ps 68:21): “My Heart hath expected reproach and misery And I looked for one that would grieve together with Me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort Me and I found none.”

There is, then, no mere empty sentimentality in the notion of giving Jesus consolation and of living in close companionship with Him. If we ask what is the essential note of the reparation which Jesus asks for in setting the agonies of His Heart before us, we can find an answer to that also in papal documents. Pius IX extended the feast of the Sacred Heart to the whole world “to provide the faithful with an incitement to love and to repay with love the Heart of Him who had loved us and washed our sins away in His blood.” Leo XIII in the encyclical of 28thJune, 1898, writes: “Jesus has no more ardent desire than to see enkindled in souls the fire of love with which His own Heart is consumed. Let us go then to Him who asks from us as the reward of His charity nothing but a return of love.” This is the burden of the whole encyclical, and all the papal documents center around this interpretation of the words of our Lord which they so often quote: “I came to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I save that it be enkindled?” (Lk 12:49).

To show how ancient is this doctrine of the personal love of Jesus, let us read the words which in the fourth century St. John Chrysostom put on the lips of our Lord:

It is not only in this way that I manifest My love, but also by My Passion. For thee, I was covered with spittle and buffeted, I stripped Myself of My glory, I left My Father and came to thee, to thee who didst hate Me, who didst flee Me, who didst not even wish to hear My name. I followed thee, I ran after thee; I caught hold of thee, and embraced thee. “Eat Me,” I said, “and drink Me.” It is not enough that I should possess thy first-fruits [a physical body like that of men] in heaven: that does not satisfy My love. I come once more to the earth, not only to “mingle” Myself with thee, but to entwine Myself in thee. I am eaten, I am broken into pieces, in order that this fusion, this union, may be more intimate. When other things are united each remains distinct in itself; but I weave Myself into thee. I want nothing to come between us: I wish the two to become one.[176]

That quotation alone justifies the title of this book, for God is indeed a tremendous lover. It also indicates the antiquity of a doctrine that reaches down to our day when St. Thérèse of Lisieux would exclaim: “For love is only repaid by love . . . it is love alone that counts!”

If we were to quote fully St. Bernard on this subject, we should have to republish half of his works, for it is his constant theme. Two quotations must suffice: “You ask me,” he writes, “for what reason and in what method or measure God should be loved. I reply: The reason for loving God is God: the method and measure is to love Him without method or measure.”[177] And elsewhere he continues:

It is by this conformity of charity, that the soul is wedded to the Word, when, namely, loving even as she is loved, she exhibits herself in her will conformed to Him to whom she is already conformed in her nature. Therefore if she loves Him perfectly she has become His bride. What can be more sweet than such a conformity! What can be more admirable than this charity by which . . . thou art enabled to draw thyself nigh with confidence to the Word, to cleave to Him steadfastly, to interrogate Him familiarly, to consult Him in all thy doubts, as audacious in thy desires as thou art capacious in thy understanding. This is in truth the alliance of a holy and spiritual marriage. But, it is saying too little to call it an alliance; it is rather an embrace. Surely we have then a spiritual embrace when the same likes and dislikes make one spirit out of two? Nor is there any occasion to fear lest the inequality of persons should cause some defect in the harmony of wills, since love knows nothing of reverence. Love means an exercise of affection, not an exhibition of honor. Honor is given by him who is awe stricken, who is astounded, who is terrified, who is filled with admiration. But none of these emotions has any place in the lover. Love is all sufficient for itself.

Whithersoever love comes, it subjugates and renders captive to itself all the other affections. Consequently, the soul that loves, simply loves and knows nothing else except to love. The Word indeed is one who deserves to be honored, who deserves to be admired and wondered at; yet He is better pleased to be loved. For He is the bridegroom and the soul is His bride. And between a bridegroom and his bride what other relation or connection would you look for, except the bond of a mutual love? Such is the strength of this bond that it overcomes even the most intimate union which nature forms, I mean the union between parent and child. So much is evident from the words of the Savior: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife. You perceive how love, as it is found between bridegroom and bride, is not only more powerful than the other human affections, but it is even more powerful than love itself. It must be also remembered that this bridegroom is not only loving but is love itself. . . . God requires to be honored as a Father, and to be feared as a Lord, but to be loved as a bridegroom. . . . But, fear is slavish until it hath been emancipated by love. And the honor which proceeds not from love better deserves to be called flattery than honor. To God alone are due honor and glory; but God will refuse to accept both the one and the other unless they are sweetened with the honey of love.

Love is sufficient of itself, it pleases of itself, and for its own sake. It counts as merit to itself and is its own reward. Besides itself love requires no motive and seeks no fruit. Its fruit is the enjoyment of itself. I love because I love, and I love for the sake of loving. . . . When God loves me He deserves nothing else than to be loved by me; He loves me in order that I may love Him, because He knows well that all who love Him find in this very love their joy and happiness. The love that is pure is never mercenary. Pure love derives none of its strength from hope, and yet suffers nothing from diffidence. [For, as the great Cistercian writes in On the Love of God: “How should the soul that loves God seek any other reward of her love save God! If she seeketh any other, she assuredly loves that, not God.”]

This pure love is a love proper to the spouse and she that is a spouse is made a spouse solely by this. Love is the sole dowry and the sole hope of a spouse. This is all sufficing for her. With this alone the bridegroom is content. He requireth nothing else and she possesses nothing else. It is such a love as this that makes Him her bridegroom as it makes her His bride. . . . Let her then who is so beloved by Him, be careful to reciprocate His love. . . . If she loves with her whole being, her love is perfect and wanting in nothing. Wherefore . . . it is love of this kind that constitutes the spiritual marriage of the soul with the Word. . . . This spiritual embrace is nothing else than a chaste and holy love, a love sweet and pleasant, a love perfectly serene and perfectly pure, a love that is intimate, and strong, a love that joins two, not in one flesh, but in one spirit, that makes two to be no longer two but one undivided spirit, according to the testimony of St. Paul, where he says: He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.[178]

We could not resist giving this long quotation from St. Bernard. Coming as it does from the Cistercian Abbot who dominated Europe in the first half of the twelfth century, and whose achievements and influence almost form the European history of his time, this passionate appeal for love, and for love alone, is all the more impressive. It was not a lack of good works or of achievement, a mere empty sentimentality, that dictated these words: “the bridegroom who is in love requires of His spouse nothing more than a return of love and loyalty.” But the life of every saint manifests the same truth. God wants our hearts; nothing else will satisfy Him unless it come from our love. He said so Himself: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole strength. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising” (Dt 6:5–7). And our Lord quoted this commandment and added the completion of it—for it is the same love that is in question—“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And then He said: “On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and prophets” (Mt 22:37–40). And He sums it up by the mouth of St. Paul: “Love therefore is the fulfilling of the Law” (Rom 13:10).

Our Lord’s appeal for love in the manifestation of His Sacred Heart, is, as He said to St. Margaret Mary, “a last effort of His love.” The results of the heresy of Jansenism had injured the devotional life of many souls. Under the guise of a greater fervor, a more correct honoring of God, and a more genuine estimation of men’s wickedness, this infection had separated men from God, had kept them from Holy Communion, and had turned them away from that tender, personal love of Jesus, which was the soul of the spirituality of the Middle Ages. Our Lord’s revelation of his Sacred Heart came as an opportune means of combating this pernicious disease, of which not all the effects have yet disappeared. Whatever be the cause, there is still in the minds of many an incorrect idea of the relations which God would have exist between Him and ourselves. The Blessed Sacrament of the Altar should be an eloquent testimony, as well as a powerful aid, to the intimacy of union that He longs to have with us. The passages we have quoted show the Christian tradition in this matter. And the whole teaching of St. Paul, proclaiming the unity of nature, of strength, and of spirit that is the beginning and the root of the life of every Catholic, makes clear the possibility of giving God a return of the love He so ardently desires.

For the love by which we love God is given to us by God Himself. It is, in fact, a special effect produced in us by the presence in our souls of the Holy Spirit, who is the subsistent love of God for Himself. As a great disciple of St. Bernard, William of St. Thierry, puts it: “Thou lovest Thyself in us, when Thou sendest the Spirit of Thy Son into our hearts. . . . Thou dost make us love Thee; or rather it is thus that Thou lovest Thyself in us. . . . We love Thee because we receive from Thee Thy Spirit. . . . Who transforms us . . . in perfect conformity with Thy love. This produces so great an attachment and union that . . . our Lord, Thy Son, called it unity, saying: ‘That they may be one in us . . . as I and Thou are one.’ We love Thee, or Thou lovest Thyself in us; we by our affections, Thou by Thy power. And Thou dost make us one by Thy unity, that is by Thy Holy Spirit, whom Thou hast given to us.”[179]

For that is the whole secret of God’s love. He is in us that through Him and with Him and in Him, we may love Him who is now in heaven as well as in us; He is in us, that through Him and with Him and in Him, we may be loved by Him who is now also in Heaven. As one modern commentator summing up the doctrine of William of St. Thierry, puts it: “We love God through God, and all supernatural love constitutes, so to speak, one God loving Himself in Jesus Christ.”[180]

Now, perhaps, we can form some idea of what underlies our Lord’s impassioned entreaty for our love, and why He insists on offering us His Heart. The exchange of hearts that He made with St. Margaret Mary is only a special confirmation of the exchange of hearts—and of lives—which He makes with us in baptism and in Holy Communion. He gives us His own Sacred Heart that we may love Him with the love that is in that burning heart—that living flame of love that cannot contain itself! No wonder He complains of the coldness of our hearts! We in our self-sufficiency try to love Him with our own strength and with our own heart. He wants a love like to His own; and He offers us Himself so that we may use His love to love Him. His prayer to the Father is “That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:26). Thus the Two Persons of the Blessed Trinity are in our souls to help us to live and to love.

That is why we started this book with the doctrine of our incorporation in Christ, for that is both the beginning and the end of our love for God. It is by being in Him that we love Him, and it is by loving Him that we are in Him. In fact, the whole question is summed up in a graphic phrase by St. Paul: “If then any man be in Christ; he is a new creature. The former things are passed away, behold all things are made new” (2 Cor 5:17).

This “new creature” is no longer subject to our human limitations. It is the “Emmanuel”—“God with us”—a union of God and man, in which God’s powers are at our disposal to sanctify us, and to make us capable of loving Him as He would be loved. It is the answer to the pagan poet’s sigh:

Ah! love, couldst thou and I with fate conspire

To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire.

Would we not shatter it to bits,—and then

Re-mold it nearer to the heart’s desire.

That is what God does in the spiritual life. For the spiritual life is a conspiracy of love in which God and man unite to destroy the “old man” in us, to make all things new in Christ, to re-establish all things in Christ—in a word, to remold us according to the desire of the Heart of God.

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