OUR LOVE OF GOD
The marvellous success that attended the labours of the Apostles was due to the fact that “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”. But what does this mean? It means that they had been so well prepared for His coming – praying, getting rid of self – that they were now filled with the love of God. The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Love, was so dwelling in them that His was not a mere passive presence but an active one, that excited in them a reciprocal love of God.
The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Love
It is a truism to say that love is the most powerful force that can move men to action. Poets and writers of all ages and countries have told us so. It is the theme of much of their writing. The poet Coleridge goes so far as to say:
All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of love,
And feed his sacred flame.
And we may say this is true if you take love in its widest sense and include all spurious forms of it. But the best love, the truest love, the only certain love, in which all other lawful human love must be found, is the love of God. We are speaking here not of God’s love of us, which is the Holy Ghost dwelling in us by sanctifying grace, but of our love for God which the Holy Ghost promotes and sets in motion.
Love is the most powerful force that can move men to action
When we love God we love Him with our intellect and will. There is not necessarily any feeling in it. The object of emotion which stirs up the feelings is something akin to our own nature and has a material or physical appeal of some sort. The love that a man has for a woman may contain a spiritual quality, but it is the physical beauty or attractiveness that stirs up the senses. This sort of love is capable of causing some of the greatest struggles and upheavals that the world has ever witnessed. We remember Marlowe’s lines about Helen of Troy: “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium?” The love into which passion enters very deeply and overturns reason is the love that has been chiefly extolled by men. But we need not accept the cynical remark of George Bernhard Shaw, that outstanding dramatist of our time, who writes: “When we want to read of the deeds that are done for love, whither do we turn? To the murder columns.”
The Supreme Good
But our love of God is infinitely higher, purer, stronger than any earthly love. To this love we are led first of all by our intellect. Once we are convinced that there is a God, we see in Him the “Summum Bonum” (The Supreme Good), the absolute good that has no measure, and as the origin and fount of all created good, He attracts us just in the degree that we attain an increasing knowledge of Him.
St Ignatius, in that culminating point of his Spiritual Exercises which he entitles “Contemplation for obtaining love”, bids us to see “how all good things and all gifts descend from above, as my limited power from the Supreme and Infinite Might on high; and in the same way justice, goodness, pity, mercy, etc., just as the rays descend from the sun and waters from the spring”. In fine, what we are to do is to make an assemblage of all lovely and attractive objects in this world, in rational, animate and inanimate nature, consider every beauty and perfection, and then reflect that all these have their origin in God, of whom they are but the faintest and dimmest reflection, and of themselves unable to give us anything approaching an adequate idea of Him or to satisfy our hearts, created by, and for, the Infinite God “in whom alone they can find their rest”.
“One only is good, God”
“One only is good, God,” said Our Lord, by which words of course He meant that God is the only absolute and all-sufficient good, and all the good there is in His creation is derived from Him and is by comparison a most attenuated form of His goodness.
Now when under the guidance of the Holy Ghost – because not merely naturally but supernaturally must the subject be treated – the intellect has grasped these truths and seen that God because of His infinite perfections is the One supremely lovable Being, when we have once entirely convinced ourselves that if we could see Him as He is we should have no freedom but to love Him, it is then that with the whole strength of our will we are determined to love Him and Him only and all creatures only in Him and for Him.
“Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love”
But it is here that we must turn in earnest prayer to the Holy Spirit that He will enkindle this love in us. By our own reasoning alone we should never get to that knowledge of God which arouses our love. We depend upon the Holy Spirit to see “the things that are of God”. Our blessed Lord said to His apostles,
“Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
The Holy Ghost is, in our souls, the force which originates, and maintains, and intensifies the movement towards knowledge and love of God.
A heart wholly inflamed with the fire of the Holy Ghost
Devotion to the Holy Ghost (who is the personal love that subsists between the Father and the Son and who with Them is the essence and nature of the One and indivisible God, constituting the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity) is a devotion that all who would arrive at a great love of God must assiduously cultivate and foster. There is no better prayer to Him than that of the Sequence “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which is said on Whit Sunday and throughout the octave of the feast.
In the opinion of critics it is justly regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of sacred Latin poetry. Of this hymn, Dr Gihr in his The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, p. 464, says: “The sequence for Whit Sunday can have come but from a heart wholly inflamed with the fire of the Holy Ghost. It is an incomparable hymn, breathing of the sweetness of Paradise, and regaling us with heaven’s sweetest fragrance. Only the soul buried with deepest recollection can suspect and taste the wealth of deep thought and affections this Pentecost hymn contains, and that, too, in a form remarkable for beauty as for brevity.” Those unacquainted with Latin will have no difficulty in obtaining an English Translation and it is by the use of such a prayer that we can arrive at that love of God which only His grace, begged for in constant prayer, can obtain for us.
What a consolation and comfort!
What a consolation and comfort a great love of God will afford us! It will make us indifferent to the miseries of this world in which we live. Indeed the more we love God, the more we shall be able to understand and to share the joy that the saints felt when called upon to suffer for God’s sake.
This poor world, torn and despoiled by war, is bereft now of so much that once gave us recreation and pleasure that we may be inclined to become sad and depressed. But it would be the greatest mistake to yield to such feelings. To do so only augments our weight of woe and is proof that we are far from being detached from the things of this world.
If we maintain a cheerful spirit and resign ourselves completely and gladly to the will of God, who has permitted these temporary evils to invade us, we shall not only be gaining great merit for ourselves but our example will be a help and an inspiration to others.
This splendid result we can all of us achieve, if by taking all the supernatural means that are afforded to us we grow in our love of God, who is so worthy to be served for Himself alone but who will infallibly give us a share, after this brief life is over (and how brief it is in view of eternity!) in His own all-satisfying and everlasting glory in Heaven.
Some things the love of God can accomplish in souls
What the love of God can accomplish in souls we see not only in the lives of canonised saints but in many to whom we priests in the course of our duties have been privileged to minister. Among these we may cite the example of one whose life was summarised in the following words:
“It was a great and consuming love of God that enabled one, whose name may not be given, to endure with courage and calm resignation a life-time of suffering. Blow after blow fell on her throughout her days, yet her love and her faith never faltered, nor did she ever doubt the ultimate wisdom of God.
She was in her early twenties when her betrothed died suddenly and the bright hopes of a happy future in this world vanished. Her only brother was killed in the Dardanelles in 1915, less than a month after he had sailed from England. She devoted herself more than ever to her parents. Then, when she was in her early thirties, she was stricken down by cancer. A severe operation became necessary. She made all arrangements to go into hospital and told only two people of the ordeal she was expecting. She knew what anguish it would be to her beloved parents to know of it and so she determined that they should never know. The operation was borne with fortitude and even gaiety. Her parents believed that she was in holiday while she was in hospital. Later, another operation became necessary, and that too she contrived to keep secret. Then she lost both her parents in a short period and it seemed from an earthly point of view as though life were empty of its last consolations. But her home became a centre of hope and inspiration to all who entered it. Nobody ever heard her grumble. Her gay and indomitable, but always gentle, spirit carried her unflinchingly through suffering that would have made the strongest tremble. To somebody’s amazed inquiry as to how she endured it all so happily, she said gratefully, ‘Oh, I have been so helped.’ And with a smile on her poor emaciated face, she went to her death.”
“Oh, I have been so helped”
Who can doubt but that it was an intense love of God, who loaded her with His grace, that enabled this heroic soul to live a life of such continuous sacrifice? It is in the lives of souls such as these, most of whom are utterly unknown to the world and are in the knowledge of a comparatively few men and women, that we see verified the words of Thomas a Kempis: “Love is a great thing, yea, in all ways a great good; for it alone maketh light to all that is heavy, and beareth with even mind every uneven burden while counting it no burden, and maketh sweet and of good savour every bitter thing… Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher or wider, nothing more joyous, nothing fuller nor better in heaven or earth; for love is born of God, and can rest only in God above all created things.”
Love is born of God, and can only rest in God above all created things
Inspired by the lives of the saints whose hearts and wills were wholly set upon God and by the lives too of those many holy souls who even at this hour are in our midst living only for God, let us all pray that we may be filled in our turn with a great love for Him. In that love we shall assuredly find our greatest comfort and consolation. Often during the day we may repeat that indulgenced ejaculation: “My God, grant that I may love thee, and let the only reward of my love be to love thee more and more.”[*An indulgence of 300 days (S.C. Ind., March 15, 1890; S.P. AP., March 23, 1936].
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Conferences of Comfort, Christopher J. Wilmot S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London 1949