The spiritual life—that is, the real life of every Catholic—is a marriage with God. It is a marriage with God the Son, which begins for each one in the sharing of His nature at baptism, which grows in a loving intimacy and unity of operation during life, and which is intended to reach an ecstasy of consummated union in heaven. It is a union modeled on the union of the Three Divine Persons, who are one God. It is a union in which God is all and we are nothing. It is a union in which God provides us with our dowry, with everything we need to fulfill our part. It is a union which in this life is based on faith, but in the next, on direct vision. It is a union of indescribable intimacy, yet one in which we never lose our own personal identity; for even in that sublime union of the Godhead where the Three Divine Persons are united in one Divine Substance, there is still a distinction of persons. It is, however, a union which perfects our nature and being, and elevates it to a new order by incorporation into Christ and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; so that the Scripture can say that in Christ we are “a new creature.”
It is, above all, a union of love; a union with undreamed-of possibilities, designed and achieved by the infinite love and loving ingenuity of God. When we shall see it in its truth and fullness, we shall either be raised up by the very knowledge to heaven in an eternal ecstasy of joy; or shall be hurled down with hell in our hearts into the unutterable bitterness of that which might have been and which is now forever lost by our own deliberate decision. For to be united to God is paradise, to be separated permanently from Him is hell.
Our life here below is given to us, moment by moment, to forge with God’s help, link by link, that bond of love which is as strong as death. All else we achieve here below will either rot in the grave, or else will be burned away in the crucible of purgatory. The only thing that lasts is love—nothing else matters. And therefore God commands our love; and even after commanding it, God still pleads for our love. We are willing to love Him, but with reserves. He is not enough for us. He pursues us and seeks our love, but like the poet each of us can say:
For though I knew His love Who followed,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon; With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover.
We are afraid to let go of what we think we have or what we think we are going to have. And God in His loving ardor pleads with us for love, for the love of our whole heart, and we turn away our ears, and drown the sound of His voice in the intoxication of pleasure, or of work, or of all or anything else, save the one thing necessary. And yet we find no peace. We hurry from one thing to another; we exhaust our ingenuity in devising new amusements to capture our jaded fancy; we plunge deeper and deeper into the mire of self-satisfaction; and we are further away from peace than ever. For our hearts are made for God, and they cannot rest till they rest in Him; He knows our hearts better than we do. And so in His love, like the Good Shepherd, He comes to seek us; He pursues us, and He uses His providence to draw us away from all else and to draw all else away from us, so that we may be driven to listen to His voice and cast ourselves upon His Heart.
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I made much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
There is a perfect picture of our tremendous lover. Everything that happens to us is but the touch of “His hand, outstretched caressingly,” to draw us to Himself, to mold us to His Heart’s desire. What then have we to do?
God gives His answer in the Canticle of Canticles:
Put me as a seal upon thy heart,
As a seal upon thy arm,
For love is strong as death,
Jealousy as hard as hell.
The lamps thereof are fire and flames.
Many waters cannot quench charity,
Neither can the floods drown it.
If a man shall give all the substance of his
House for love
He shall despise it as nothing (Sg 8:6, 7).
That is God’s desire—that we give Him all the substance of our house—for love—and count it as nothing. And that is God’s desire for every single soul. All He asks is love; and the love that He asks for is the love that He Himself is willing to give us.
Because this love, because this whole new life comes to us from God; that is the reason why we so insistently and categorically assert that the basis of the whole spiritual life is humility. It was our Lady’s humility that attracted God’s regard and was the foundation of the “great things” He did for her. It is humility that will make Him do “great things” for us. The whole spiritual life comes from God and is infused by Him, and the only thing in us that puts a limit to its increase in us is our pride; for it is pride that makes us appropriate the glory that really belongs to God, and which He would obtain for Himself by His sheer mercy in endowing us with His Holy Spirit and making us one with Christ.
All then that is necessary for any Christian in order to seek the summits of divine love is to live in faith, hope, charity, humility, and willing abandonment to God’s will. The teaching of the popes, the tradition of the whole Church, as we saw, proclaim that all God seeks is our love. He does not ask for miracles, for great achievements, for extraordinary success, for outstanding personal development. The only thing He asks is so extraordinary—for it is a love entirely beyond our powers—that we must rely upon Him to give it to us Himself; hence no one need despair of achieving it.
If one ask for more practical details, all we can do is sum up what we have already written. There is absolutely no need to do anything beyond the ordinary obscure things of the ordinary obscure life, which was shown to us by the Holy Family in Nazareth. What must be done is to make each act of that ordinary life an act of extraordinary, superhuman, supernatural love. That is done by diligently acquiring and daily nourishing a knowledge of our Lord and of ourselves, and of the relations that He wants to have existing between us. We have to read daily, and we have to reflect daily. Like our Lady, “we must keep all these words in our heart.” Like her, too, we must keep in personal contact with Jesus by prayer. We must pray often and intimately, with our heart more than with our lips, and cultivate a prudent recollection in our thoughts. To this prayer we must add the frequent use of the sacraments; thus shall we ourselves and our daily work be sanctified. Holy Communion should be approached as often as is reasonably possible. And Holy Communion is but the complement of the Mass. We give ourselves to God in the Mass, and He gives Himself to us in Communion. We must live according to that offering of ourselves and according to the union of Holy Communion by a life of ready devotion and generous abandonment to God’s will. For the rest, all that is needed is that we make the ordinary things of our ordinary life one long act of love of God by purity of intention and fraternal charity.
As we said, there is no need for anything extraordinary. Whatever we do for God is unacceptable to Him unless it comes from love, and it is the love that prompts the work that He seeks more than the work which love achieves. Purity of intention should be our aim; for that is what He asks when He says: “Put me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm.” We must try to do all that we have to do in union with Him and in service of Him. He must be the principal agent in all our works, and He must be the principal end of all that we do. In particular, we must be careful to see Him by faith in everyone of whom we speak or with whom we come in contact. Whatever we do to our neighbor, whatever we say about our neighbor, is done to Him or said about Him. We can always find Him in our neighbor, for He takes to Himself lovingly all that is prudently done to the least of His brethren.
Here we must be careful to observe His disposition of things. There is an order in fraternal charity; it begins at home, and we must not give away what is not ours to give. There is a tendency to express our fraternal zeal in the corporal works of mercy, and this is but the age-old Christian tradition. But we must remember that our chief duty to our neighbor is a spiritual one. The supernatural must come before the natural, and supernatural works are only done by supernatural means. Therefore our first and best service to our neighbor is to sanctify ourselves by a life of loving union with Christ.
There is no limit to be put to our love, but our love must put a limit to our exterior works. It is the interior life that matters. As St. Thomas writes:
Man’s good, his justice, consists especially in interior acts, in faith, hope, and charity, not in the exterior acts. . . . Man should place no bounds to his charity, but on the other hand, he should in his exterior acts, employ a discretion governed by charity.
Some indication of the errors to which we are liable can be gathered by observing human love in married life. Self-will and an obstinate refusal to accommodate oneself to the will of one’s partner is an obvious lack of love. Infidelity is still worse. True love cannot divide itself in its own order; it must find its all in the beloved. Still, the waywardness of weakness and the faults of frailty can be forgiven by love precisely because it is love. But there is one thing that love, precisely because it is love, finds most difficult to forgive; there is one thing that causes love, because it is so deep a love, intense anguish; there is one thing which repels love and casts it down completely like waves shattered into fragments and thrown back from the unyielding and relentless cliffs; and that is self-sufficiency. Love of its nature is dependent and calls for dependence. Love wants to give, and nothing can be given to the self-sufficient.
And so, if there be one way better than any other in which a loving heart can make reparation to the wounded Heart of Jesus, it is by a cheerful acceptance of one’s own poverty and insufficiency—it is by living a life of genuine humility. There is no more acceptable gift of love to God, there is no greater comfort we can offer His agonizing Heart, than to cast ourselves on His mercy in our complete poverty and powerlessness, joyfully accepted and gladly acknowledged, so that all may come to us from Him. For in very truth if He is not our All, He is not our God.
It is here that many souls err. They see the spiritual life as a service of God, and so it is. But they imagine that the principal value of their service is found in the results they achieve; whereas in God’s eye the results—the increase from their sowing—are the fruits of His goodness and His grace and of His Son’s merits and sufferings. As far as that particular soul is concerned, it is rather the love that should inspire the service that God is seeking. And to make things worse, it often happens in the service of God that those who are seemingly zealous for His service are really serving themselves. They are pursuing their own career. Their zeal is not so much for God’s glory as for their own. They resemble those modern wives who insist on having their own career. They are living their own life—not the new life of union with Christ.
The prototype of all careerists is Judas. He seems to have been one of the ablest of the apostles, one who felt that he was sure to rise to high estate in the new kingdom which all the apostles understood Jesus was to found on earth. He was the minister for finance in the apostolic college, a man of affairs and prudence. Gradually pushed into the background by Peter’s rise to favor and thwarted in his desire for advancement, he began to realize that our Lord’s policy was not going to lead to the temporal greatness on which he had counted. Christ was an impractical idealist! He was deliberately setting a course that would bring Him in conflict with the authorities and openly spoke of His crucifixion. He spoke only of love and suffering. When the mother of John and James asked for preference for her sons in the future kingdom, Jesus could only speak of a chalice of suffering which was all He had to share with His friends.
And so this prudent man decided to cut his losses. After all, he argued, a man must look after himself. If Jesus would not see reason, well, he himself would have to make other provisions for his own future: There were other fish in the sea . . . and so on. And his mind was soon filled with all those other good and sound reasons that men use to stifle their conscience when they are deciding to betray their friends. . . . And just at the very hour when our Lord was pouring out His Blood in the sacramental offering of Himself at the Last Supper and delivering Himself up to the Agony in the Garden, in order to make superabundant provision for the eternal happiness of Judas, that worldly-wise mercenary was selling his lover and his God for thirty pieces of silver. . . . And, even then, if he had only known the Heart of this tremendous lover, it would not have been too late. “If thou also hadst known . . . and thou wouldst not!”
For it would seem that if Judas had turned to Jesus in sincere sorrow, but also with confidence, relying on the goodness of His loving Heart and forgetting the wretchedness of his own, he would not only have been forgiven—that is certain—but he could even have become one of God’s greatest lovers and saints; for God’s mercy is over all His works, and Judas would have been the saint of God’s mercy. Whether that be correct or not—it is only a personal opinion—the story of Judas has a lesson for us all. God’s plans for our sanctification are never quite what we expect them to be and are often quite contrary to our own ideas, no matter how well we are acquainted with God’s ways. He always hides His sanctifying work from our eyes, for He must preserve in us that humility and poverty of spirit which is essential for sanctity. Even though we avoid the error of Judas of expecting temporal success instead of eternal love, still we must not expect to see our plan for our own sanctification being realized instead of God’s plan. His plan for us is His secret—a lover’s secret—and we must trust His love. In fact, our trust in God, especially when we see our own unworthiness, is the greatest compliment we can pay Him.
But whatever else we do—even though we go so far as to imitate Judas in his crime of betraying God—let us, for God’s sake as well as for our own, avoid his still greater crime of thinking that our sins are too great for God to forgive. That is the blasphemy of blasphemies! No matter how great, how numerous, how malicious are our sins, even if we had spent every moment of our life in deliberate mortal sin against God, still one single act of love of God for His own sake can destroy every single sin on our soul; and even if our love be but imperfect, even if our sorrow arises rather from love of ourselves—inasmuch as we deplore our supernatural loss—than from love of Him, still He is waiting for us in the sacrament of penance, to forgive us and to change our imperfect sorrow into love of Him, making us His friend by grace. No sins in our past of which we are willing to repent are any barrier to our reaching the summits of sanctity.
The reason is because our sanctification is from God and from His mercy. Listen to our Lord’s words on the night He was betrayed: “For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth”; and consider St. Augustine’s explanation of His meaning:
What else can He mean but this: “I sanctify them myself, since they are truly myself.” For they of whom He speaks are His members, and the head and body are one Christ. . . . That He signifies this unity is certain from the remainder of the same verse. For having said: “For them do I sanctify myself,” He immediately adds: “In order that they too may be sanctified in truth,” to show that He refers to the holiness that we are to receive from Him. Now the words “in truth” can only mean “in me,” since Truth is the Word who in the beginning was God. . . .”And for them do I sanctify myself,” that is “I sanctify them in myself as myself, since in me they too are myself.” “In order that they may be sanctified as I am sanctified,” that is to say “in truth which is I myself.”
Quia et ipsi sunt ego: “since they too are myself”! That is why no one who is willing to love God is prevented from reaching the heights of holiness and all that is essentially connected with it. Because if anyone is willing to love God—and by that very fact one does love Him—our Lord can say of him, “he too is myself”; and He has sanctified him in Himself and has already won the holiness that such a one is to receive from Him. By truly loving Christ we become members of Christ, and if we do His will by keeping His commandments, the Father and He will come and make Their abode in us.
The whole Christian life, then, is Christ and His love. We ourselves live and love no longer, it is Christ who lives and loves in us. In Christ we are loved, and Christ is loved in us. In us Christ loves the Father, and the Father loves Christ in us. Christ in us loves our neighbor, and in our neighbor we love Christ. Christ in the husband loves the wife, and in the wife the husband loves Christ. So also Christ in the wife loves the husband, and in the husband the wife loves Christ. Christ is our supplement, our complement, our All in fact, both in loving and being loved, “And there shall be one Christ loving Himself.” For “Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11).
Let us go back now to the scene with which we commenced this book. That scene where our Lord weeps over His beloved city is but typical of His sorrow at the folly of all men who reject Him. His complaint is but one of the many expressions we read in Scripture of His frustrated love. “And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it saying: ‘If thou also hadst known and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace . . . ‘ (Lk 19:41, 42). O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Thy peace had been as a river, and thy justice as the waves of the sea” (Is 48:18). “If thou didst know the gift of God and who He is that saieth to thee, give Me to drink!” (Jn 4: 10). (Did He not say to St. Margaret Mary, “I thirst to be loved?”) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children as the bird doth her brood under her wings . . . and thou wouldst not!” (Lk 13:34).
Perhaps in light of what has been written above, we may begin to see what was breaking our Lord’s Heart as He looked out over the world on the eve of His Death and saw all those “who would not.” His whole Passion and Death were vividly present to His mind, as if they had already been accomplished. He saw as if already accomplished, not only all that He had done for us, but also that He had done not only all that was necessary, but more, much more than that. He had left His Father in heaven and had become man for us, “emptying Himself, taking the form of a servant.” He had not only shared our nature, but He had shared our life.
He had even gone further. In some mysterious way, He had taken on Himself the shame of our sins and had accepted in Himself all the effects of our rebellion against God. So much so, that in some extraordinary way, He found Himself rejected and deserted, as it were, on the cross by His Father in heaven. He had been numbered with the wicked and, in St. Paul’s graphic phrase, had become “sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). And the anguish of soul in which He could exclaim, “I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people . . . O God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Ps 21:7, 1) is made all the more bitter by the knowledge of the futility of His sacrifice for some because of those who would not give Him their love. “What profit is there in my blood, whilst I go down to corruption?” (Ps 29:10). Who can fathom the agony of His Heart as He saw that our happiness was already won, that everything was ready for the marriage, that only our consent and love were necessary, and we would not give it! He had lived our life for us at the cost of His own, and it only needs our love to make all He has done for us our own, and we will not love Him.
We will not believe in Him. He has promised us everything if we leave what we think we have and cleave to Him by love—“a hundredfold in this life and eternal happiness in the next”—and we will not believe Him. He has assured us that every single thing that happens to us is under the loving hand of the Father who will not let even a sparrow fall on the ground without His providence; yet we will not believe Him. He was raised up from the dead to glory so that our hope might be in Him, and yet we will not put our trust in Him. We hope in our own goodness, not in His.
Nor will we even love Him. We will not give Him our whole heart, lest having Him we should have naught besides. We want to live our own life, to be the author of our own sanctification. We do not want to be like the rest of men. We spend our days in seeking distinction, for we will not admit that the commonplace is the gate of eternal happiness. We go here and go there, we do this and do that, in order that we may talk about it and be talked about. We seek “the bubble reputation in the fool’s mouth,” not knowing “the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” We will not look beyond the opinion of this world and lift our eyes to the reality of the next. We live and hope and love as if there be no God, as if we were alone, as if we had no hope save in what we achieve for ourselves. We insist on planning everything and on doing everything ourselves. We will not deny “our selves” and love Him. We are too busy arranging for our happiness to listen to Him, whereas He has already made all the arrangements necessary for our happiness.
God sees that it is not good for man to be alone. And He had made Himself a help to us like unto ourselves. With the cooperation of Mary, the most wonderful person of His creation, He makes us one with Himself, for it is written, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel—God with us” (Is 7:14). For in Christ we are one with God.
But this union with God demands our cooperation, and that is why our Lord and lover Jesus Christ weeps over our refusal to hearken to Him and to be gathered under the wings of His sanctifying love and His saving grace. There is no true happiness for us except in union with God. Nothing else on earth can satisfy our hearts; nothing else can give our life any real meaning. The extremes to which our Lord has gone to provide for our salvation and to awaken our love for Him show how earnestly and how urgently He desires our happiness. His plan for our renewal in Himself, which we have attempted to outline in this book, speaks for itself: but most eloquent of all is the Crucifix. So urgent did He consider our need, so ardently did He desire to save us that He, being God, came down from His place in heaven, became man and lived and suffered and died for the love of us. “What greater reason,” writes St. Augustine, “can we assign for the coming of our Savior than His longing to manifest His love for us?”
If we would but be convinced that there is but one answer to the riddle of life, and if we would accept our vocation to divine union as the sole end of our life, then immediately everything falls into perfect harmony; the whole scheme of things down to every detail of our lives acquires a new meaning, for all things have been accepted by the will of our Redeemer and made to cooperate in leading us to union with God. All things work together for good to those who love God, for it is His purpose and plan to re-establish all things in Christ.
What then have we to do? We must realize that God is our tremendous lover, that He is our all and that He has done all our works for us. We must believe in God and not in ourselves; we must hope in God and not in ourselves; we must love God and not ourselves. As St. Augustine told us, there is one man who reaches to the extremities of the universe and unto the end of time. We have to enter into this one man—this one Christ—by faith, hope, and charity. We have to find our all in Him. He is our full complement and our perfect supplement. No matter how weak we are, He is our strength; no matter how empty we are, He is our fullness; no matter how sinful we are, He is our holiness. All we have to do is to accept God’s plan—to say as Christ said coming into the world: “A body thou hast fitted to me; behold I come to do thy will, O God.” We have to accept the self, and the surroundings, and the story, that God’s providence arranges for us. In humility we must accept our self—just as we are; in charity, we must accept and love our neighbor just as he is; in abandonment, we must accept God’s will just as things happen to us, and just as He would have us act. Faithful compliance with His will and humble acceptance of His arrangements will bring us to full union with Christ. For the rest, let us gladly glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in us. In our weakness and in our love we shall thus become one with Him, and there shall be one Christ loving Himself.
For Christ is all, and in all. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. No one can truly love, except Christ loves in him. No one can be truly loved, except Christ be loved in him. It is only by Christ and with Christ and in Christ that we can love God; and God Himself loves us in Christ, for He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, unto the praise of the glory of His grace in which He hath graced us in His Beloved Son.
For God made all things for His glory, and Christ is the glory of His substance. God willed to glorify Himself by His mercy, and ours is the misery that calls down His mercy. Our holiness in spite of our misery is the glory of His mercy, for Christ is our All. Let us then be filled with Christ, and by a life of love become one with Him, through Whom, and with Whom, and in Whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit—the Love that is God Himself—is all the Glory of God.