Link back to index.html
Guidance for Practising Divine Love
All the passages below are taken from St Francis De Sales’ book “Living Love---A Modern Edition of Treatise on the Love of God.” It was edited by Bernard Bangley and published in 2003.
I have written in this treatise of the mystical love that God pours into our hearts. This love lives independently in the ultimate place of the spirit. While some souls have a natural tendency to love God, they are always at great risk of being diverted from the purity of sacred love by a mixture of other loves. This risk accompanies the capability of loving.
If two people, the one loving and docile by nature, the other inconsiderate and offensive, have equal love, they may love God equally, but not in the same way. Love will come quite naturally without a great struggle to the first. This love should not be considered better, or more perfect. The second has a love that was born among the thorns and dislikes of a harsh and dry character. This love has nobility and is truly glorious.
It doesn't make much difference, then, what kind of personality is engaged in the love of God. It is a matter of possessing a love beyond the natural world that is working supernaturally. This, Theotimus, is what I want to ask the world: If you have hearts ready for love, why don't you dedicate yourselves to celestial and divine love? If you are rough and bad-tempered, why don't you find a love that is far above the natural love you lack?
"Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20 NIV). A single treasure is not enough for the divine lover. God wants us to have an abundance of treasures. We need an insatiable desire of loving God. What forces bees to increase their store of honey? It is their love for it. 0 heart of my soul, created to love the infinite good, what love can you want but this most desirable love? O soul of my heart, what desire can you love but the loveliest of all desires?
Someone who is sick may have no appetite. Still, there is an appetite for an appetite. A person who is ill may not want to eat meat, but there is a desire to want it. Theotimus, it is not possible to know if you love God above all things unless God reveals it to you. It is easy, however, to know if you desire to love God. If there is a desire for holy love in you, you may be sure you are beginning to love. When the sensual and animal part of us becomes hungry it does not always obey the rational part. Sometimes we want what we cannot have. The desire of loving and love itself depend upon this same will. As soon as we have an honest desire of loving, we begin to love a little. As the desire increases, love increases. If you ardently desire to love, you will soon love ardently.
Spiritual hunger, in which one sighs incessantly after the pure gold of divine love, is the root of all good. Anyone who really wants love goes looking for it and will find it. The discovery will uncover the fountain of life. The one who finds love "finds life and receives favour from the Lord" (Proverbs 8:35 NIV). Theotimus, pray a prayer similar to this one night and day: "Come, Holy Spirit, kindle in my heart a fire of sacred love. 0 heavenly love, fill my soul."
Lilies will flower sooner or later depending upon the depth at which they are planted. If the bulbs are set only three fingers into the soil, they will bloom early. If they are planted six or nine fingers, they will come up comparatively later. If the person who is deeply involved with worldly business desires divine love, it will bud late and with difficulty. On the other hand, if such a person gives such business only the attention it requires, then divine love will bloom promptly with much delicious fragrance. If we desire something that has nothing to do with God, we desire God that much less.
Prying ambition, anxiety, ignoring our purpose for being in this world: These are the reasons for which we have a thousand times more worries than work and more occupation than profit. These do not represent our true business. They are wasteful activities that we allow to distract us from the love of God. King David and other leaders (such as St Louis) were pressured with the demands of serious business. But they never stopped singing, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth" (Psalm 73:25 NIV).
The Israelites were justified in declining the invitation of the Babylonians to sing some of their sacred songs. "How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (Psalm 137:4 NIV). They were not only living with the Babylonians, they were their captives. Anyone who is a slave to courtly favours, the prizes of law, or the honours of war is thoroughly distracted. It is not possible to sing a hymn of heavenly love. Those who are only at court, at the tribunals, or in war by duty can count on the help of God, who will preserve them from the plague that settles in such places. God also takes care of those who do not go to court, to bar, or to war except by necessity. We are not to be careless in such affairs---we are to participate if we are required to participate. If we have no business there, it is best to stay away.
Necessary employment, according to each person's vocation, does not hinder divine love. It increases and gilds the work of devotion. The nightingale loves her melody no less when she pauses in her song. The devout heart loves God no less when it turns from prayer to necessary business. Silence and speech, activity and contemplation, work and rest provide equal opportunity to sing a hymn of love.
Some make great plans to render outstanding service for our Saviour. They are ready to suffer working for God. But they have no opportunity to fulfil their dream. They imagine they have done a great work of love, but they deceive themselves. It is not enough to embrace great crosses in some undefined future circumstance. It would be better to take up lesser crosses that are present right now. There is a tremendous temptation to be valiant in the imagination.
God preserve us from imaginary fervour that breeds a vain and secret self-esteem deep within us. We are not always asked to perform great works for God, but every moment we may do little ones with much excellent love. "If anyone gives a cup of cool water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42 NIV). This is a small action without much to see, but the intention, the love that inspires the giving of a cup of cool water to a thirsty traveller turns it into something of eternal significance.
Bees gather honey from the lily, the iris, and the rose. They gather more from insignificant rosemary and thyme flowers. In fact, this is even better honey. Those tiny flowers concentrate the nectar and keep it well preserved. It is in the subdued and little works of devotion that love can be practised more frequently and with more humility.
Putting up with bothersome people falls into this category. Any time we have a little victory over our emotions we have done a great work of love. Theotimus, I explained to Philothea in my Introduction to the Devout Life that the most profitable things imaginable for our souls are the renunciation of our lesser tendencies, an honest admission of our own imperfections, the continual care of our spiritual life, the love of humility, and a welcoming of criticism.
We are greatly sanctified by doing little actions motivated exclusively by a strong desire to please God. It is possible to eat a lot without getting fat or receiving vital energy if the digestive system is not functioning normally. Others get along well with little to eat. In the same way there are those who do many good works and yet make little progress in love, because they do them either coldly and negligently or by native instinct and inclination rather than by divine inspiration or holy eagerness. On the contrary, there are others who accomplish little, but do it with so holy a will and inclination that love progresses in them marvellously. They may not be highly talented, but they use what they have so faithfully that the Lord is greatly pleased.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV). "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17 NIV). St Thomas tells us that these words are put into practice when we have a habit of holy charity. Even if we do not have a designated purpose of performing everything we do for God, the intention to do so is implied by the union we have with God. Every action is automatically dedicated to God's divine goodness. If we are God's children by love, then everything we do glorifies God.
Allowing God to Help
When a master artist holds and guides a student's hand, the stroke that is made is mostly the teacher's. Though the student holds the brush and contributes some motion of his hand, the master mingles his movement with the student's. He gives a touch through him. If there is anything good in the brushstroke, the honour belongs to the teacher. Still, we can praise the apprentice. He made his own hand pliable and yielded to the motion and direction of his master. Our actions are excellent when divine love impresses its sacred movement on them, when they are motivated by sacred love.
There is a special influence of divine love in the virtuous actions of those who are particularly dedicated to God's service. Consecrated bishops and priests vow to be branded and marked serfs to the constant service of God. Monks, with their solemn vows, are "living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1 NIV). The same is true for all those who determine to follow the will of God, going on retreats to stimulate their spiritual life and attempting to reform their behaviour. Ignatius of Loyola rediscovered this neglected spiritual exercise and renewed its practice. The one who has deliberately become a loving servant of God's divine goodness has thereby dedicated every activity to God.
Recognizing the value, everyone should at least once in a lifetime make a good retreat for several days. It will cleanse the soul and inspire a determination to live entirely to God. After this there should be an annual review of spiritual progress and a daily renewal of our offering to God, as I have described elsewhere to Philothea.
In addition to these things, let us unite our life to divine love by the practice of brief, spontaneous prayers hundreds of times a day. We can lift up our hearts, casting our spirits continually into God. If we constantly breathe words of love in order to remain close with God, then everything we do will be done in God and for God. Use little prayers such as the following:
"Lord, I am yours."
"My lover is mine and I am his" (Song 2:16).
"My God, you are everything to me."
"Jesus, you are my life."
"May I die to myself and live only for you."
"Oh, to live in God!"
"Oh, to be in God!"
"Whatever is not God is nothing to me."
The soul that has completely yielded itself into the hands of God is blessed because it then needs only to make one little sigh and take one look at God to renew and confirm its commitment. The practice of continual prayer will give life to all of our loving efforts. It will have a special benefit for the small and ordinary activity of daily life. As for heroic actions of great consequence, let's lift our heart and spirit to God. Ponder eternity with deep concentration. Divine goodness has prepared this present moment of opportunity from all eternity. Embrace it. Do the good that waits to be done. Endure the evil that cannot be avoided. Yield to God's providence. This is the way to do serious spiritual business. If the challenge continues for an extraordinarily long time, pray this brief prayer: "Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure" (Matthew l 1:26 NIV). There are treasures for you in this practice, Theotimus.
How loving is this great God, who out of infinite goodness gave his Son for the redemption of the whole world. This was done for all in general and for each one in particular. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners---of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV).
Theotimus, our Creator from all eternity determined to create, preserve, govern, redeem, save, and glorify each one of us. What was I before I was born? I am something now, but I am a simple, poor earthworm. And yet God from the abyss of his eternity had thoughts of blessing in my behalf. He designed and determined the hour of my birth, of my baptism, of all the inspirations he would give me. Can we realize anything any more wonderful than this?
Oh, Theotimus, our Saviour knew us all by name. When he was crucified, he offered his tears, his prayers, and the blood of his life for all of us. For you he breathed these loving thoughts: My eternal Father, I accept within myself all of the sins of poor Theotimus. I experience the torments of death that he might be freed from them, that he may not perish. Let me die that he might live. Let me be crucified that he may be glorified.
The passion and death of our Lord is the sweetest and most powerful motivator that can affect our hearts. Mystical bees gather their best honey at Calvary. Children of the cross enjoy their riddle which the world cannot understand: "Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet" (Judges 14:14 NIV). Out of love that "is as strong as death" (Song 8:6 NIV) has come the honey of our love. Jesus, my Saviour, your death is worthy of love because it is the evidence of your love.
Surrounded by heaven's glory, beside the unadulterated divine goodness, our Saviour's death will engulf us in God's love. An indication of this was given in the transfiguration of Christ. This event gives us a glimpse of heaven. "As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:29-31 NIV). I can imagine the heavenly anthem that will be joyfully repeated for all eternity:
Live, Jesus, live. Your death proves.
The great power of heavenly love.
Theotimus, Calvary is for lovers. Any love that does not begin with our Saviour's passion is trifling and dangerous. Death without the love of the Saviour is unhappy. Love without the death of the Saviour is unhappy. Love and death are mingled at Calvary. We can't have one without the other. At Calvary it is not possible to have life without love or love without the death of our Redeemer. All Christian wisdom amounts to making the right choice. I have written this Treatise, my Theotimus, to help you make that choice. Choose eternal love or eternal death. There is no other choice.
Oh, eternal love, my soul desires and chooses you. Come, Holy Spirit. Inflame our hearts with your love. We love or we die. We die and we love. We die to all other loves in order to live to Jesus' love. Saviour of our souls, may we sing forever, Vive, Jesus! Live, Jesus, whom I love! Reign forever. Amen. [135-143]
Link back to index.html