The comfort of Christ’s love
Preachers and ascetical writers are never weary of dwelling on the similarities that exist between the Heart of the Lord and that which beats in our own breast. Without denying the points of resemblance, we may, however, maintain that the contrasts are no less striking than the likenesses; that the heart of Jesus is in reality singularly different from ours, and that even His human love derives from the hypostatic union a certain infinitude which renders any comparison with ours misleading, unless it is understood in a strictly transcendental and analogical sense.
Human love is restricted and breaks suddenly; it cannot bear much strain
Our love, indeed, like everything else that pertains to a finite creature, is essentially restricted. It soon attains a measure that it cannot overpass. It is confined within bounds that are astonishingly narrow and limited. Its depth is so rapidly exhausted that we cannot escape from the conclusion that it was exceedingly shallow from the first. It breaks asunder so suddenly and easily that we cannot fail to realise how slight is the strain that it can bear.
There occurs a divergence of opinion, a conflicting interest, an imaginary offence, a trifling wrong, and straightaway the ties of the strongest friendship are loosened. Some one, near and dear, is taken from this life: he is mourned for a while, but the mourners are soon comforted and the departed one is forgotten.
Or again, we meet with a case of dire distress, our feelings are harrowed, our sympathy is excited; but we cannot avoid perhaps the while the inner comforting consciousness that after all it is not we ourselves that are concerned. A well-known satirist says: “We all have courage enough to bear the misfortunes of our neighbour.”
Human love is limited in its intensity and duration
And not only is our love limited in its intensity, it is also circumscribed in its duration. It is often a bright flash that lightens up the prospect for a moment, only at once to plunge it in more impenetrable gloom than before.
The ideal we seek in creatures ever recedes as we know them better: a castle in the air that vanishes at the touch of reality
One reason is that the ideal we seek in creatures ever recedes as we know them better: it is a will-o’-the-wisp that eludes our grasp, a castle in the air that vanishes at the touch of reality. No created beings can live up to the standard we have assigned them, and as they come tumbling down one after the other from the pedestal on which we have set them, disenchantment and bitter disappointment follow upon our infatuation.
The truth is that, although we can love, we love in reality but little. We love precariously: we give of ourselves but we rarely, if ever, give ourselves. Where indeed is he to be found who attains to complete surrender, the complete immolation of self, to an actual hunger and thirst for sacrifice of the one loved? Which of us continues to love when beauty is faded and youth is spent, and prosperity is flown, and faults are manifest, and all that once attracted us has withered away and departed? Ah, where is such love to be found, save in the Heart of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
Seeking the love of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
Where else can we meet what will satisfy the secret ultimate hunger of our being? We need a heart to love us so sensitive that every tear we shed excites in it the deepest compassion. We need a heart so pure that it is sinless of its very nature, yet so merciful that it cannot look on the vilest sinner without being moved to compassion.
The generosity and eagerness of Christ’s love
We need a heart devoured with the eagerness of love, yearning for an immediate requital, yet content to wait, for years, for a lifetime even, if then it can win the hoped-for return.
A fountain brimming over with the most unselfish and unquenchable love
We need a heart so generous that it will overlook all our indifference, all our ingratitude, our many revolts, our repeated betrayals; a heart which, even when it is forsaken and despised by those it loves best, remains possessed of the one abiding desire to love them still.
We need a heart which, after giving away all it had, is nevertheless distressed because it has no more to give, and finds its only comfort in inventing a thousand ingenious devices to manifest its love in every place and at every time.
Such a heart is the Heart of Jesus Christ, a fountain brimming over with the most unselfish and unquenchable love the world has seen, the only Heart that has loved God as God deserves but the only one too that has loved mankind as mankind craves to be loved.
Ships that pass in the night
Another characteristic discriminating our love from that of the Man-God is that our love extends to but a very few other beings. The reason is obvious, for the amount of love we possess in our heart is very finite, and if we bestow it upon many, what each one obtains becomes so attenuated, so infinitesimal, as to be practically worthless.
We are therefore compelled to reduce the number of those who have a share in our affection: and when we come to reckon up, we may be surprised to discover how exceedingly few are those for whom we really care.
This restriction and exclusiveness of our affections has even come to be regarded by men, not in the light of a defect but as a positive virtue whereby we are restrained from squandering our love upon a multitude. And they are right in a way, for we are so poor and have so little to give that if we distribute of our treasures broadcast to those around us, there remains nothing for those who have a claim upon us.
A host of casual fellow-travellers on the road which bridges two eternities
Thus it is that we carefully fence in our affections; we build unto ourselves, as it were, a little nest and therein we place the few that are dearest to us – father, mother, brothers, and sisters, the one or two trusted friends of our intimacy.
All others are jealously excluded from that charmed circle: they stand on a different footing, at a lower level: they rank not as friends but as acquaintances, neighbours, bound to us by no tie, ships that pass in the night, casual fellows travellers who happen to journey alongside of us on the road, long or short, pleasant or wearisome, which bridges two eternities.
The Sun that pours forth its warm vivifying rays upon millions of beings
How different is the love of Christ Our Lord, as manifested in His Divine Heart! He has no need to be sparing of His affection for each one of us, on the ground that the source might run dry and become exhausted, for it is an ocean which, after our little shell has been filled from its depths, remains as boundless and as fathomless as before.
Neither is there fear that by extending His love to so many of His brethren according to the flesh, He must lessen the amount bestowed upon each, for His love is like the sun which pours forth incessantly its warm vivifying rays upon millions of beings, yet so that no one suffers loss from his neighbour’s gain.
Likewise, the human love of Our Lord, though not strictly infinite, partakes in some degree of the attribute of infinity, and after it has been lavished in overwhelming measure upon a creature, it remains unspent, inexhaustible, still at the disposition of others in its entirety.
Accordingly, He can, and does, love all without exception, the great and the little, the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned, the righteous and the sinning. Where indeed is the being so wretched and abandoned that it is outside the pale of that all-embracing affection? Where is the defilement that can repel the unspotted purity of that Heart? Where the lowliness to which its inborn nobility will not stoop? Where the exalted position which does not come within the range of its bounteous munificence?
Loving Christ Our Lord in return
Lastly, as Christ Our Lord loves us all, so He intends and commands that He should be loved by all in return – another point in which His love differs from ours. Alas, it is so very hard for us to find even a very few who really care for us: how then could any of us aim at being the object of a universal and personal love?
A universal and personal love
It does not enter our dreams, it is not thought of by the mightiest monarch even on the day of his coronation: it would not perhaps conduce to our happiness. Yes, we must have knowledge in abundance, we place no limits on the esteem and regard in which we would be held – but of love, a very tiny drop suffices. It is enough for us if we possess the entire friendship of even one fellow-being.
Loving our Saviour above every creature and above life itself
But more wonderful still, not only does our Saviour demand the love of each one of us, He insists that each should love Him above all things, above every pleasure, above every prospect, above every creature, above life itself:
“If any man come to Me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 24:26)
But, one might say, is that not surely an idle, foolish, preposterous, impossible claim? Higher than parent, child or wife, there is but God, and therefore any higher love is and must be impious and derogatory to the Divinity.
Without a doubt; and it is precisely because Christ is God that He can make and uphold so unheard of a demand. The claim itself, even apart from the astounding response which has been accorded to it, must be taken as constituting yet another proof of the Divine Personality of the claimant. Only God can love as Christ has loved; only God can enjoin a love such as Christ both exacts and freely wins from millions of rational creatures.
He hath loved me and delivered himself for me (Gal2:20)
All this considered, each and every one of us can say with St Paul, “He hath loved me and delivered himself for me” (Gal2:20). What a comfort then is this love of Christ for us and how much easier it makes it to face all the trials and sufferings of this life for love of Him.
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Fr Christopher J. Wilmot S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949