The Act of Love
Presence of God – O Lord, grant that I may love You for Yourself and not for my own consolation, and that in loving You, I may always seek Your will, not mine.
To love a person is to desire his well-being. We understand, therefore, that the essence of love is in the act of the will by which we wish good. This does not take away from the fact that the act may often be accompanied by sensible affection, making our love both an act of the will and of the sensibility. Nevertheless, it is clear that the substance of real love is not to be found in the emotions but in the act of the will. Charity does not change our manner of loving, but penetrates it, supernaturalizes it, making the will and the sensibility capable of loving God. Yes, even sensible affection can be engaged in the act of supernatural love; God does not despise this humbler and less lofty manifestation of our love for Him, because He has commanded us to love Him not only with our whole mind and our whole soul, but also with our whole heart. All our powers—intellectual, volitive, and affective—are engaged in the act of love, and yet the substance of this act is not found in the feelings but in the will. Therefore, when our emotions are cold in our love of God, and we “feel” nothing, there is no reason for us to be disturbed; we will find less satisfaction in our love—for it is much more pleasant for us to feel that we are loving—but our act of love will be equally true and perfect. Even more, lacking the impetus and pleasure which come from our feelings, we will be obliged to apply ourself more resolutely to the act of the will and this, far from harming it, will make it more voluntary, and therefore, more meritorious. Precisely because the substance of love is in the act of the will that wishes good to God, in order to make our love purer and more intense, Our Lord will often deprive us of all consoling feelings; we will no longer feel that we love God—and this will give us pain—but in reality, we will love Him in the measure that we will with determination what He wills, and want His good pleasure and delight above all things. Besides, it is not in our power to feel love but it is always in our power to make voluntary acts of love; it is always in our power to wish good to God, striving with all our strength to live for Him and to please Him.
“Ah, my God and Lord, how many there are who seek in You their own consolation and pleasure, and desire favors and gifts from You; but those who long to give You pleasure, please You and to give You something at their own cost, setting their own interests last, are very few.
“Give me the grace, O God, to follow You with a real love and a spirit of sacrifice, so that I may never seek for consolation or pleasure either in You or in aught else. I do not desire to pray to You for favors, for I see clearly that I have already received enough of these, and all my anxiety is set upon rendering You some service such as You merit, although it cost me much. O my Beloved, all that is rough and toilsome I desire for myself, and all that is sweet and delectable I desire for You” (John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul II, 19,4 – Spiritual Maxims: Points of Love, 52).
“O God, how necessary it is that we should learn to love You without any motive of self-interest: To walk along the road of love as one should, we must have the one desire of serving You, O Christ crucified; therefore, I neither ask for consolations nor desire them, and I beg You not to give them to me in this life.
“No, my God, love consists not in interior favors but in the firmness of our determination to please You in everything, and to endeavor in all possible ways not to offend You, and in praying for Your greater honor and glory. It consists especially in perfect conformity to Your will so that I too want—and steadfastly—all that I know You will, accepting the bitter and the sweet with equal joy. O strong love of God! I really think nothing seems impossible to one who loves” (Teresa of Jesus, Interior Castle IV, 2-1; Foundations, 5; Conceptions of the Love of God, 3).
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Art: Detail of The Virgin of the Carmen with Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, Juan Rodríguez Juárez (1675-1728), undated, PD-US published before January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons; Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.