Strong and Active Love
Presence of God – Lord, grant that my love for You may not be content with words, but prove itself in generous deeds.
“Love is never idle” (Teresa of Jesus Interior Castle V, 4). When the true love of God enters the soul it gradually begets in it an interior dynamism so strong and forceful that it spurs it on to seek ever new ways of pleasing the Beloved, and makes it diligent in devising fresh means of proving its fidelity to Him. Love, in fact, is not nourished by sweet sentiments or fantasies, but by works. “This love,” says St. Teresa, “is also like a great fire which has always to be fed lest it should go out. Just so with these souls [in which God Himself kindles the flame of charity]; cost them what it might, they would always want to be bringing wood, so that this fire should not die” (The Book of Her Life 30). The soul that truly loves does not stop to examine whether a task is easy or difficult, agreeable or repugnant, but undertakes everything in order to maintain its love. It even chooses by preference tasks which demand more sacrifice, for it knows that love is never truer than when it urges the sacrifice of self for the One loved. Hence, through love, “there is caused in the soul a habitual suffering because of the Beloved, yet without weariness. For, as St. Augustine says, ‘Love makes all things that are great, grievous, and burdensome to be almost naught.’ The spirit here has so much strength that it has subjected the flesh and takes as little account of it as does the tree of one of its leaves. In no way does the soul here seek its own consolation or pleasure, either in God, or in aught else” (John of the Cross Dark Night of the Soul II, 19,4).
This explains the attitude of the saints, who not only embraced wholeheartedly the sufferings with which God strewed their paths, but sought them with jealous care, as the miser seeks gold. St. John of the Cross replied to Our Lord, who had asked him what recompense he desired for the great services he had rendered Him: “To suffer and to be despised for Your love.” And St. Teresa of Jesus, seeing her earthly exile prolonged, found in suffering embraced for God the only means of appeasing her heart, a thirst for eternal love; and she entreated: “To die, Lord, or to suffer! I ask nothing else of Thee for myself but this” (The Book of Her Life 40).
In heaven we shall have no further need of suffering to prove our love, because then we shall love in the unfailing clarity of the beatific vision. But here below, where we love in the obscurity of faith, we need to prove to God the reality of our love.
“He who truly loves You, Lord, has only one ambition, that of pleasing You. He dies with desire to be loved by You, and so will give his life to learn how he may please You better. Can such love remain hidden? No, my God, that is impossible! There are degrees of love, for love shows itself in proportion to its strength. If it is weak, it shows itself but little. If it is strong, it shows itself a great deal. But love always makes itself known, whether weak or strong, provided it is real love.
“O Lord, grant that my love be not the fruit of my imagination but be proved by works. What can I do for You, who died for us and created us and gave us being, without counting myself fortunate in being able to repay You something of what I owe You?
“May it be Your pleasure, O Lord, that the day may finally come in which I shall be able to pay You at least something of all I owe You. Cost what it may, Lord, permit me not to come into Your presence with empty hands, since the reward must be in accordance with my works. Well do I know, my Lord, of how little I am capable. But I shall be able to do all things provided You do not withdraw from me.
“It is not You that are to blame, my Lord, if those who love You do no great deeds; it is our weak-mindedness and cowardice. It is because we never make firm resolutions but are filled with a thousand fears and scruples arising from human prudence, that You, my God, do not work Your marvels and wonders. Who loves more than You to give, if You have anyone that will receive; or to accept services performed at our own cost? May Your Majesty grant me to have rendered You some service and to care about nothing save returning to You some part of all I have received” (Teresa of Jesus Way of Perfection 40 – Interior Castle III, 1 – The Book of Her Life 21 – Foundations 2).
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Art for this post on our strong and active love: Mirror of Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.