Holy Week has arrived. The Lenten season draws to a close and reaches its climax. The spotlight falls fully on the passion, crucifixion and death of Our Lord. No matter how good, bad or indifferent our Lent has been, now is the time to ponder more deeply the two-fold mystery of Love and the Cross.
“Honour be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ. Fearing your passion and death, you poured forth the love from your innocent body like sweat, and still you accomplished our redemption as you desired and gave us the clearest proof of your love for all men.
Eternal praise be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, for the time you endured on the cross the greatest torments and sufferings for us sinners. The sharp pain of your wounds fiercely penetrated even to your Blessed Soul and cruelly pierced your most Sacred Heart until finally you sent forth your spirit in peace.”
St Brigitte of Sweden, to whom this prayer is attributed, would spend long hours in meditation on the blows Jesus suffered during his terrible passion.
St Thérèse, who said that her first real meeting with the crucified Jesus came long before she entered the Carmelite Convent, wrote, “The first sermon I understood was a sermon on the Passion.” Pondering the Holy Face of the crucified Jesus enabled her to see God’s love through her own pain and suffering.
For both saints, as for many others, this was a loving response of the creature to the supreme loving act of the Creator.
The following abridged reflection by St John Vianney considers how we respond to God’s overwhelming love in the light of the Cross. May his words, and the example of the saints, inspire us to an ever deeper and ultimately more radically loving response.
On the Love of God
“If you love Me, keep My Commandments.”
Nothing is so common among Christians as to say, “O my God; I love You,” and nothing more rare, perhaps, than the love of the good God. Satisfied with making outward acts of love, in which our poor heart often has no share, we think we have fulfilled the whole of the precept. An error, an illusion; for see, my children, St. John says that we must not love the good God in word, but in deed. Our Lord Jesus Christ also says, “If anyone love Me he will keep My Word.” If we judge by this rule, there are very few Christians who truly love God, since there are so few who keep His Commandments. Yet nothing is more essential than the love of God. It is the first of all virtues, a virtue so necessary, that without it we shall never get to Heaven; and it is in order to love God that we are on the earth. Even if the good God did not command it, this feeling is so natural to us, that our heart should be drawn to it of its own accord.
If the Saviour of the world, addressing Himself to each one of us separately, were now to ask us the same question that He formerly asked St. Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” could we answer with as much confidence as that great Apostle, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You”? Domine, tu scis quia amo te. We have perhaps pronounced these words without taking in their meaning and extent; for, my children, to love the good God is not merely to say with the mouth, “O my God! I love You!” Oh, no! where is the sinner who does not sometimes use this language?
To love the good God is not only to feel from time to time some emotions of tenderness towards God; this sensible devotion is not always in our own power.
When you love a person, you show him the more or less affection according as the ardour of your love for him is more or less great. See, my children, what the saints were like, who were all filled with the love of the good God: nothing cost them too much; they joyfully made the greatest sacrifices; they distributed their goods to the poor, rendered services to their enemies, led a hard and penitential life; tore themselves from the pleasures of the world, from the conveniences of life, to bury themselves alive in solitude; they hastened to torments and to death, as people hasten to a feast. Such were the effects which the love of the good God produced in the saints; such ought it to produce in us.
But, my children, we are not penetrated with the love of God; we do not love the good God. Can anyone say, indeed, that he loves the good God, who is so easily frightened, and who is repulsed by the least difficulty? Alas! what would have become of us if Jesus Christ had loved us only as we love Him? But, no.
Triumphing over the agonies of the Cross, the bitterness of death, the shame of the most ignominious tortures, nothing costs Him too dearly when He has to prove that He loves us. That is our only model. If our love is active, it will manifest itself by the works which are the effects of love, because the love of the good God is not only a love of preference, but a pious affection, a love of obedience, which makes us practice His Commandments; an active love, which makes us fulfill all the duties of a good Christian. Such is the love, my children, which God requires from us, to which He is greatly entitled, which He has purchased by so many benefits heaped upon us by His death for us upon the Cross. What happiness, my children, to love the good God! There is no joy, no happiness, no peace, in the heart of those who do not love the good God on earth. We desire Heaven, we aspire to it; but, that we may be sure to attain to it, let us begin to love the good God here below, in order to be able to love Him, to possess Him eternally in His holy Paradise.