1. perfect love, which is to love God for his own sake and
2. imperfect love, which is to love God for the sake of his gifts.
The manner of doing a thing may be perfect or imperfect. It is perfect when the end proposed is fully attained; it is imperfect when, though we do not attain the end, we endeavor to do all in our power to succeed.
Now, the end and object of the precept of charity are to love God with all the powers of our soul and body, and to be united to him in such a manner as to find it impossible to wish, to seek, or to love any thing but him, so that God is all our joy, all our honor, all our wisdom, all our riches, all our happiness. Such perfect love, however, is found only in heaven.
The moment a soul enters heaven, God communicates and unites himself to it as far as it is capable, and according to its merits. He unites himself to the soul, not only by means of his gifts, his lights and his loving attractions, as he does in this life, but he also unites himself to the soul, by his own essence. As fire penetrates iron, and seems to transform it entirely into fire,so does God penetrate the soul, and fill it with himself, in such a manner that, though it does not lose its own essence, yet, it is so replenished by God and buried in the immense ocean of the divine essence, that it finds itself, as it were, absorbed and transformed into God.
This spiritual union with God causes the soul to languish with love. It remains immersed in the infinite goodness of God; it then forgets itself, and, being inebriated with divine love, thinks of nothing but God. (Ps. xxxv. 7 9.) As one who is intoxicated forgets himself, so does the soul in heaven think only of loving and pleasing God. It desires to possess him entirely, and it really possesses him without the fear of ever losing him ; it desires to give itself entirely to God ; it really does so, every moment and without reserve. God shows the soul his love, and will continue to do so for all eternity ; and the soul loves God infinitely more than it loves itself. Its heaven consists in
the knowledge that God is infinitely happy and that his happiness is eternal.
Here it may be objected that love united to the desire of reward is not the love of true friendship, but rather the love of self. "I answer," says St. Alphonsus, "that we must distinguish between temporal rewards promised by man, and the reward of heaven which God has promised to those that love him. The rewards of men are distinct from their own persons, for they never bestow themselves, but only their goods; whereas the chief recompense which God bestows upon the blessed is himself." (Gen. xv., 1.)
To desire heaven is to desire God who is our last end. St. Francis de Sales says that supposing there were an infinite goodness, that is, a God to whom we did not in any manner belong and with whom we could have no union, no communication, we would undoubtedly esteem such a God more than ourselves; we might have even the desire of loving him, but we could not love him in reality because love looks to union with the object beloved. Our soul will never be entirely at peace until it is perfectly united to God in heaven. It is true that those who love God enjoy peace in conforming to the divine will; but they cannot enjoy perfect rest in this life, because such rest is obtained only in heaven where we will see God face to face, and where we shall be consumed with divine love. As long as the soul is not in full possession of God, it is restless, it sighs and mourns. (Isai.xxxviii., 17.) The good which I expect is so great, says St. Francis of Assisium, that every pain is to me pleasure.
These ardent sighs and desires to be united with God and possess him in heaven, are so many acts of perfect charity. St. Thomas teaches that true charity does not exclude the desire of those rewards which God has prepared for us in heaven; because the principle object of our desire is God, who constitutes the essential happiness of the blessed, for true friendship desires the full possession of the friend. Such is the reciprocal communication expressed by the Spouse in the Canticles. (Cant, ii., 16.) In heaven God bestows himself upon the soul, to the extent of its capacity and according to the measure of its merits. The soul, on the other hand, gives itself entirely to God, it acknowledges its own nothingness in comparison with the infinite loveliness of God. It sees that God deserves to be loved infinitely more than it can love God. Hence the soul is more desirous to please God than to please itself. It rejoices at the glory it receives from God; but rejoices because God is thereby glorified. At the sight of God the soul feels sweetly constrained to love him with all its strength. The soul loves God so much that, were it possible, it would rather suffer all the pains of hell, with the privilege of loving God, than enjoy all the delights of heaven without God's love. The soul knows that God is infinitely more deserving of love than itself, and therefore it has a much greater desire to love God than to be loved by him. Hence the desire of going to heaven to enjoy and to please God, by loving him is a pure and perfect love. The pleasure which the blessed experience in loving God, does not affect the purity of their love; for they are much more pleased with the love which they have for God, than with the satisfaction which they find in being loved.
In this life, such perfect love is impossible. We can only sigh and aspire after it. The cares, and wants, and trials of this life are an obstacle to such perfect charity; they prevent our hearts and souls from being lifted up to God in perfect love. In this world, says St. Thomas Aquinas, man cannot perfectly fulfill the precept of loving God. None but Jesus Christ, who was the Man-God, and Mary who was full of grace and free from original sin, observed this law perfectly. As for us, unhappy children of Adam, our love for God is always mingled with some imperfection. The love that God requires of us in this life consists in being determined to renounce health, wealth, honors, all the goods and pleasures of this world, and even life itself rather than forfeit even for an instant the friendship of God. This kind of love God requires of us when he says : "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole mind, with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength," and this command is binding under pain of mortal sin.
By this same commandment God also requires, at least under pain ot venial sin, that we should consecrate to him all our affection. He does indeed not command us to love nothing but him, but he does command us to love nothing apart from him, to have no affection for any thing except for his sake. It is in this manner that many just and holy persons love God. It was this divine love that urged the Apostles to go even to the extremities of the earth to announce the Gospel. "l am sure," exclaims St. Paul, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities. . . . nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God." (Rom. viii., 38, 39.) It was this divine love that encouraged the holy confessors to enter the dungeons, and suffer there for their holy faith. It was this love that encouraged the martyrs to ascend the scaffold and shed their blood for Jesus Christ. It was this divine love that filled the deserts with anchorites; it induced kings and queens to renounce the crown and scepter and submit to the holy yoke of obedience in the monastery.
It was this love that induced thousands of tender virgins to give up all that this world holds dear in order to become the spouses of Jesus Christ, and they cheerfully endured every torment rather than to prove faithless to their heavenly Bridegroom.
There lived in the thirteenth century, in a certain town of Brabant, a pious maiden, named Mary. From her earliest infancy she consecrated her heart to God. Her good parents encouraged her in her virtuous life, and exhorted her to be very devoted to the Blessed Mother of God. When Mary grew older she renewed the vow of virginity which she had made in her childhood, and added the vow of poverty, in order to resemble more closely her divine spouse, who was so poor that he had not even where to lay his head. She renounced all claim to her lawful inheritance, and vowed to beg her bread from door to door. She even shared with the poor whatever alms she received. She thus led, for many years, a life of great hardships, a life of great virtue. At last God rewarded her, as he always rewards those whom he loves: he allowed great sufferings to come upon her.
Mary was virtuous and modest ; she was beautiful and she was virtuous. It happens too often unhappily that great beauty leads to sin. Beauty and virtue do not always dwell together. Beauty is too cften; alas ! but the shining veil that hides a frail and simple heart. However this was not the case with the pious maiden. She was beautiful and she was virtuous. Mary was admired by all on account of her great virtue and her great beauty. There was especially one who not only a admired, but also loved her with passionate love. But his love was not pure, it was not from God. His love was base, animal passion. The demon of impurity took entire passion of his heart. This demon urged him on, and gave him no rest. One day this unhappy man met the pious maiden and disclosed to her the guilty passion that burned in his heart. He offered her gold and silver and costly garments; he offered her honors and wealth in abundance.
But Mary was not one of these frail creatures who sell their innocence for a gay dress, or a pretty ring. She shrank in horror from the guilty proposal. She told the wicked man that from her infancy, she had consecrated her heart to God, that she could never love any other bridegroom than Jesus. She exhorted him earnestly to think of death and to beware of the just vengeance of heaven. But the wretched man was blinded by passion ; he was deaf to every warning. The thought of gratifying his unholy desires alone occupied his mind. Day and night, waking and sleeping, this one thought, this one desire possessed him. He did not pray for strength ; he did not approach the sacraments. He gave himself up entirely to the power of the demon. In order to effect his guilty purpose, he hid one day a silver goblet in the sack of the pious maiden. He then went to her, boldly accused her of the theft, and threatened her with imprisonment and death, if she still continued to refuse him. Mary protested that she was innocent. She declared in a resolute tone that she would die the most cruel death rather than to offend God by mortal sin. Then the wicked man, in a rage, snatched the sack from her and drew forth the silver goblet which he himself had placed therein. Then, in malicious triumph, he cried out :
"Behold here the proof of your guilt. Now if you still continue to refuse me, you shall suffer imprisonment and death." The poor, helpless maiden grew pale ; she trembled in every limb. She wept, and prayed to God for strength and God, the comforter of the poor and the fatherless, strengthened her, and she answered boldly: "No, never will I consent to sin. I will rather die innocent than become the victim of your guilty passions." Wild with rage at seeing himself thus baffled, this wicked wretch swore that he would be revenged. His passionate love was now turned into deadly hate. This s always the case with sinful love. Sensual love turns sooner or later into deadly hatred. This we often see even in this life. This is especially the case with the damned in hell. Ah ! how those unhappy souls that once loved one another during life with sinful love, ah ! how they curse and hate one another in hell !
Holding the goblet in his hand, this wicked wretch ran in haste to the judge, accused the innocent maiden of theft, and, in proof of his accusation, he showed the goblet which he had taken from her sack. He accused her, moreover, of the fearful crime of witchcraft. He said that by her magic spells she inflamed the hearts of men with sinful love; that she had even bewitched himself, so that he could neither rest nor eat nor sleep. At first, the judge would not believe his words, knowing the unblemished reputation which Mary always enjoyed. He tried to defend her against the accusations of this wicked man. But this monster would not desist till Mary was taken prisoner.
One day, this pious maiden was at the house of her parents, praying and weeping in her great affliction. Suddenly the officers of justice entered, seized her, dragged her away with them and cast her into prison. In order to force her to confess the crimes of which she was accused, they put her to the torture. The innocent maiden was stretched on a rack, she was tormented in the most inhuman manner ; but she continued to protest her innocence. "It is true" she said "the goblet was found in my wallet, but I did not put it there, and I know not who did." "Do you not hear what she says," shrieked the accuser triumphantly; "she acknowledges herself that the goblet was found in her sack. What more proof do you need?" "Yes," he cried in a rage, "she is a thief, she is a sorceress. Let her be put to death!"
Mary was poor, and the poor have but few friends on earth. She had no one to plead her cause, no one to defend her. Her accuser, on the contrary, was wealthy, and wealth has more power in this world than innocence and justice. Without further examination she was condemned to death. As she was being led to the place of execution, she passed a statue of our Lady that stood by the way-side. She begged permission to pray for a moment before our Lady s shrine. Her request was granted. And now she implored the Blessed Mother of God to assist her in her agony. She prayed for those who were the cause of her death, and begged God especially to forgive her accuser. She prayed, moreover, that all those who should visit her grave, might obtain relief in all their sorrows. She then arose from her knees and with a firm step walked on to the place of execution. All who saw her, wept. Even the heart of the executioner was touched. His hands trembled, his face grew pale, and the tears came unbidden to his eyes. "Holy maiden," he cried sobbing aloud," forgive me before I perform my sad task ; pray for me when you appear before your bridegroom, Jesus." "I forgive you from my heart," answered the innocent victim; "I forgive all those who have injured me, and pray that God may forgive them their sins."
Then Mary was bound hand and foot with heavy iron chains. A large deep grave was dug for her, and she like an innocent lamb was cast into the grave. The grave was then filled up with earth, and Mary was buried alive ! The executioner then took a long sharp stake, and, by means of a heavy sledge, he drove it with repeated blows through her tender body. O, what a frightful death ! This was, in those days, the punishment of all who were found guilty of witchcraft. The by-standers wept and trembled with horror, on witnessing the cruel death of the innocent maiden. Her accuser alone that wretched monster remained unmoved. Like an incarnate demon, he gloated in malicious triumph over her sufferings. But the justice of God overtook him. Scarcely had this wicked man left the place of execution, when, by God's permission, the devil entered into him and took full possession of him. He now began to rave and howl like a wild beast. He became so furious that he had to be chained to prevent him from doing harm. His hands and feet were bound fast with heavy iron chains and, as all were afraid of him, he was cast into a dark, deep dungeon. In this frightful state he remained for seven years. At last, his friends carried him to various shrines of our Blessed Lady, where many miracles had been wrought ; but the demon declared, in a rage, that he would never leave this wicked man till he had been brought to the grave of the murdered maiden.
Mary, the heroic martyr of virginity, was not long dead when God made her innocence known. Many miracles were wrought at her grave. The Blessed Virgin Mary herself was seen one night coming down from heaven, accompanied by a band of beautiful virgins. Thrice they went around her grave in solemn procession, and then disappeared. In consequence of this a chapel was built over Mary's grave and there many a sad heart came and found relief. Thither too this wicked man was brought by his friends, and instantly the devil departed from him. He was cured, and finally he repented of his enormous crimes.
To be continued . . . . . . . . .