"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul and with all thy strength." (Deut. 6. 5).
An ancient hermit, who had spent many years in solitude, in prayer, fasting and work, at last was seized with the desire of acquiring learning, that he might be able thereby to make greater progress in the love of God. He therefore left his solitude and betook himself to a celebrated university to attend the lectures of its famous professors. Entering one of the lecture halls crowded with students fromevery country, he took a seat among them. A renowned professor mounted the lecture-stand and began his lecture with these words :
"The question we shall discuss this morning is: Whether we should love God with our whole heart ?"
Hearing these words, the hermit, greatly astonished and scandalized, immediately left the hall, saying to himself :
"How strange and foolish that any one, especially a learned professor, should consider as a doubtful and debatable question whether we are bound to love God with our whole heart ! Why, do not the heavens, the earth and all creatures, and our very reason, our very heart clearly tell us, that we are bound to love God with our whole heart ?"
How well did that hermit reason ! Nevertheless, although everything in and around them plainly tell men that it is their sacred and indispensable obligation to love God with their whole heart, it is necessary to admonish, exhort, urge and entreat them, nay, to threaten even Catholics, to induce them to love God !
I. GOD HAS EVERY TITLE AND CLAIM TO OUR LOVE.
I. In the first place, He commands us to love Him with our whole heart. He is our Creator, the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, and it is, therefore, our most sacred, paramount and indispensable duty to obey Him in all things. And He insists that we should love Him.
"What doth the Lord ask of thee, unless that thou fear the Lord thy God, and love Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul? " (Deut. 10. 12).
This is the greatest and the first commandment (Mat. 20. 38). It is the greatest com mandment, with regard to its antiquity, for it was written in the heart of man from his very creation. It is the greatest, with regard to its necessity. Without the love of God, or charity, all good works, all penitential works, all virtues, are useless for man's salvation.
"If I have not charity, I am nothing, ... it profiteth me nothing" (i Cor. 13. 2 3)- With charity, with the love of God, even our indifferent actions contribute to our salvation. It is the greatest in extent, for it is binding on all mankind without exception; on the rich and on the poor; on the old and on the young; on the learned and on the unlearned; on the healthy and on the sick. No one is or can be dispensed from its obligation. It is the greatest in dignity, because it takes precedence over every other obligation, and its observance ennobles us more than that of every other duty.
It is like the gold among the other metals, like the sun among the other heavenly bodies. It is a gold that enriches us, a fire that inflames us, a sun that enlightens us. It is the greatest in duration, for it embraces all times, all ages and eternity itself. In heaven there is no faith, no hope, no self-denial, no penance, but only charity, the love of God. It is the greatest in the facility of observance. No reason, no pretext can dispense us from loving God, for it is always in our power to love Him, even in the last moments of our life. To love God we need no learning, no wealth, no good health, no fine clothes, no strength, no beauty, no fasting, for this commandment "is near thee, in thy mouth, in thy heart" (Deut. 30. 14). It is the greatest in sweetness. In fact, nothing is more delicious than the love of God, for as experience amply proves, it sweetens all hardships, all sufferings, all trials and crosses ; it sweetened the very torments of the martyrs (for instance, those of St. Laurence roasting on a gridiron), and is the ineffable happiness of the denizens of heaven! On the other hand, how fearful the punishment of those who do not love God, such as the foolish virgins, to whom God says :
"I know you not" (Mat. 25. 12); the reprobate, on the last day, will hear the divine Judge condemn them: "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire" (Mat. 25. 41).
2. God is so great that heaven and earth cannot contain Him. He is infinitely powerful, infinitely wise. How well has He made all things, and how wonderful and perfect His Providence, His care of His creatures, and especially of mankind! Infinite is His goodness and mercy; infinite, His justice. Infinite the beauty of Him who has made so many and such beautiful things !
"He is," says St. Augustine, "infinitely more beautiful than all that He has made." God is so lovable, that in heaven eternity will not suffice to love Him as much as He deserves to be loved.
3. God is especially our God. "God is all ours," says St. Augustine ; "He seems to be God only to belong to us." Daily does He bestow innumerable favors and benefits upon us. He gives us for our use all that He has made; it is He who has given us all that we are and all that we have. It was for us that He made heaven and earth, the air, the water, the plants and animals on the earth, and everything that is useful and beautiful in nature. How great was the joy of the queen of Saba, when she visited Solomon. "Seeing the house and the order of those ministering, she no longer had consciousness" (3 Kings 10. 4, 5), that is, she was beside herself, or so greatly amazed as to find no words capable of expressing her astonishment. But how happy and grateful she would have been, had all these things been provided for her! But what was the palace of Solomon compared to the whole universe ! God can say to us : "Behold I have given you all things" (Gen. i. 29), for God does not need them for Himself. Let us briefly sum up God s gifts to us. He has given us our whole being, our life, our body, our soul, our senses and members and the use we can make of them; also our reason, our free-will, our heart. He has preserved our life every moment so many years, from so many dangers and sufferings. And what is still more, He has bestowed upon us the inappreciable gift of the true faith and made us His children, His heirs in the kingdom of heaven, and enabled us so often to gain victories over the enemies of our soul! And when we had offended Him repeatedly, instead of punishing us as we deserved, He has borne with us in all goodness and mercy, and forgiven us and restored us to His friendship and to all claims as His heirs in His heavenly kingdom.
Every moment of our life has been marked with special unmerited divine favors. What more could He have done for us than He has done? His love for us could go no further, for "thus hath God loved the world, as to give His only-begotten Son" (John 3. 16). And His divine Son, "Jesus Christ loved us and delivered Himself for us" (Gal. 2. 20), to frightful torments and a most cruel and shameful death to save us from our sins and the eternal torments they deserved! The Son of God loved us so much, that, although He is almighty, He cannot love us more than He has done, for, as He Himself says, "Greater love than this no man hath, than that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15. 13) ; and Jesus laid down His
life to save us sinners, His enemies!
Should not we, who naturally love creatures on account of some good quality or slight perfection, of benefits conferred on us, of their affection for us, love above all, with our whole heart, God, who is infinitely perfect, who is our Creator, our Benefactor, our most loving Father, who has loved us from all eternity with infinite love; who has, at the price of His blood, of His very life, rescued us from hell, made us children of God, opened heaven for us and secured for us all the means we need to deserve and gain heaven! Hence we may truly say that he who will not love God deserves to be cast into the everlasting fire among the demons ! "If any man," says St. Paul, love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema "
( I Cor. 16. 22). Let us reserve all our love for God, and not for creatures, for, according to St. Augustine, "heaven and earth, and all that they contain, are constantly crying out to us: Love not us, but love God only.
II. HOW WE SHOULD LOVE GOD. We should love God 1. as our Lord, 2. as our God, 3. as our Saviour, for He is our Sovereign Lord and Master, the only true God deserving of all our love, and our Saviour, who gave His life to save us and merited heaven for us. "If I ask any one," says St. Gregory, "Do you love God ? he will surely answer, I do. That we possess some kind of love of God, is very probable. But not every kind of love is sufficient. We should, says the beloved disciple, "love not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (i John 3. 18) ; and we should love God as He requires us to love Him, that is, "with our whole heart, with our whole soul and with all our strength," nothing less than that will satisfy our obligation of loving God. We must love God above all things; more than ourselves, more than all creatures. To do this, we must be willing to sacrifice, if necessary, all things for His sake, and refer to Him. our thoughts, our words, our affections, our actions. God exempts from this law no part of our being; everything in us should be, as it were, permeated with His love. We may not love any one or anything in preference to God. Who loves God in this manner? Practically but few persons love Him thus. The commandment of the love of God requires that for His sake, 1. we be ready to make every sacrifice, 2, to undertake everything, and 3, to suffer all things.
I. In the first place, we are bound, whenever God demands it, through His commandments, through the requirements of our state or station in life, to give up, to sacrifice everything, for God is the Sovereign Lord and Master of all things. Listen to St. Paul enumerating the sacrifices the love of God requires of us : "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or persecution, or the sword? I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, . . . nor any other creature shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8. 35-39). Let us ask ourselves these questions of St. Paul and answer them sincerely. If we really love God, we shall endeavor to avoid all that displeases Him, and to do all He requires of us. What displeases God? All that is sinful, and only what is sinful. When we truly love some one, we do all we can to please him and avoid all that might displease him. Therefore he who breaks any of the commandments of God is wanting in the love he owes to God. "He that keepeth My commandments," says our divine Saviour, " he it is that loveth Me.... If any one love Me, he will keep My word. . . . He that loveth Me not, keepeth not My words" (John 14. 21-24). (Enumerate various classes of sinners who break the commandments of God, to gratify their passions.) He who truly loves God longs to be in heaven to be with Him and share in His happiness. "If God were to propose to you," says St. Augustine, "to leave you forever on earth in the enjoyment of its goods, saying to you: You shall never behold Me in heaven, would you be satisfied with this arrangement, and not long to enjoy God in heaven? If such a proposition would please and satisfy you, it would be a sign that you have not really begun to love God."
2. The love of God requires us to be ready to undertake everything we can for the glory of God. Merely thinking or saying that we love God, merely transitory feelings of love for God, are no proof that the love of God dwells in us, for all this costs us nothing, demands no effort on our part. The true love of God is necessarily active, lively, courageous and capable of doing great, difficult things for God s sake. We must prove our love of God by acts, by daily acts ; by our combats against the world, the devil and our evil inclinations, our passions ; by our overcoming human respect. It must enable us to keep faithfully God's commandments and those of His Church, to fulfil the obligations of our state of life. Holy Scripture compares the love of God to a fire which burns and consumes everything sinful in us ; to a seed which grows up and produces good fruit; to a root which sends sap and life to every part of the tree, of the plant; to living water which quenches our thirst for heavenly things and disgusts us with everything earthly and sinful. The love which ceases to act, ceases also to exist. Faith and hope, although they may be inactive in us, may still exist. But there is no charity without good works ! To those who truly love God nothing is hard or impossible, but even the most difficult and disagreeable things become easy and agreeable. If this is true concerning natural love, it is still more so in divine love, as is fully proved in the lives of the saints.
3. He who truly loves God is willing to suffer all things for His sake. "Greater love than this no man hath, than to lay down his life for his friends" (John 15. 13). What the saints, for instance, Sts. Peter and Paul, the martyrs, suffered for the love of God! What can we bear for God's sake? What do we, indeed, bear out of the love of God! "He that loveth not, abideth in death" (I John 3. 14).
How many renounce the world and all things therein and consecrate themselves to God, to serve Him more faithfully, to save souls, to serve their neighbor in religious communities and hardships and continual sacrifices! No one on earth is happier than they. Hence St. Augustine exclaims : "Thou, O Lord, art that sweetness by which all bitter things are sweetened !" Jesus Himself tells us : "My yoke is sweet and My burden light" (Matt. n. 30).
"It is better for me" said St. Bernard, "to embrace Thee, my God, in tribulation, than to be in heaven without Thee."
Let us truly love God above all things, with our whole heart, in this life, and thus begin to do now on earth what we are destined to do in heaven for all eternity.