On the Great Commandment of Divine Love
by Richard Challoner, 1807
Consider first, those words of the divine law, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This (says the Lord) is the greatest, and the first commandment,’ Matt. xxii. 39. Yes, my soul, it is the greatest of all the commandments of God, and that which he takes most of all to heart, since He has made our souls to His own image and likeness, to this very end that we should love Him, and should dedicate our whole being to His divine love, for all the time of our pilgrimage here upon earth, that so we might come to be happily united to Him in an eternal band of love in his heavenly kingdom. O the excellent dignity of this divine commandment, which tends directly and immediately to raise our souls above this earth, and above the heaven of heavens, and the whole created universe, and to bring them to the God that made heaven and earth, and to unite them to Him by a most perfect love, both for time and eternity.
Consider 2ndly, the incomprehensible goodness of God is manifested to us in this commandment, in His insisting so much upon our loving Him, and upon our tending with all our power to a union with Him. Is then our love of any consequence to Him? Or can we add any thing to His happiness, by loving Him? Or will He lose any thing, if we refuse Him our love? And what is there in us poor little ants, if compared to His infinite majesty, that He should concern himself whether we love Him or not? Would it not be an unspeakable favour to us, that He should even suffer us, considering who He is, and who we are, to aspire so high as to pretend to His love? But that this great God should make it a commandment–and the very first and principal of all His commandments–that we should love Him, and love Him with our whole heart; that He should insist upon our entering into this league of eternal friendship with Him, promising all happiness for eternity upon our compliance, and threatening us with most dreadful and eternal evils if we love Him not; ’tis this that shows forth and sets in so wonderful a light the goodness of our God and His love for us that we should be not only most wretched, insensible, and ungrateful beyond expression, but even in some sense worse than devils, if we should refuse Him our love.
Consider 3rdly, the excellence of this commandment of divine love, with regard to the fruits it brings to our souls. Divine love is the queen of virtues. She never comes alone, but brings all other virtues along with her; she gives life to them all; even faith and hope are dead when she is not in their company. She brings with her the remission of all our sins; she makes us the friends and favourites of the Most High; she makes us His children, His spouses, His temples she is the ‘band of all perfection.’ O my soul, how glorious it is, how happy, how delightful, to be thus united to thy God by a strict band of friendship and love! O embrace then, with all thy powers, this great commandment, which, by obliging thee to give thy whole self up to the love of God, brings down thy God with all his treasures to thee.
Conclude to make it henceforward the business of thy life to learn this great lesson of loving God; and as no one but God Himself can effectually teach thee so sublime and so divine a science, continually beg of Him to introduce thee into His school, which He holds in thy interior, and there to be thy master.
On Loving the Lord Our God Above All Things
Consider first, the import of these words, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,’ and thou shalt find in them innumerable motives to dedicate thyself to divine love. For who is this thou art here commanded to love? THE LORD, that is, the eternal, self-existent, incomprehensible, and infinite Being of beings, who alone properly is, and who is being itself. For all this is implied in that ineffable name, which is here rendered THE LORD. ‘I am, who am,’ saith He, Exod. iii. 14. And ‘He who is hath sent me to you’–THE LORD, that is, the creator, and absolute master of the whole universe, of all things visible and in visible; infinitely powerful, infinitely wise, infinitely good, infinitely beautiful: the one true sovereign good, infinite in all perfections, goodness, beauty, perfection, and truth itself, compared with whom all things else are just nothing at all. See, my soul, how many motives thou hast to love this great Lord, who comprises in Himself all that is lovely and charming, who is the immense ocean of all good.
Consider 2ndly, the motives of divine love implied in those words, thy God; forasmuch as they signify that this Lord of infinite majesty is also pleased to be thine. Yes, He is thy God, He is thy first beginning and thy last end, He is thy maker, who has made thee for Himself; and who many ways daily communicates Himself to thee; He is thy father, thy spouse, thy pastor, thy keeper, thy constant benefactor, thy ever faithful friend, thy ancient and most disinterested lover, thy sovereign good, and the source of all thy good, for time and eternity. And whereas thou wast fallen from Him and from His love by sin, He has been pleased to give himself to thee, in a manner still more enduring, by sending His own Son to be thy saviour and redeemer. O reflect, my soul, on what the Son of God has done and has suffered for the love of thee. From the first moment of His conception, thou wast always in his heart. His love for thee brought Him down from His heavenly throne, to take flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin; His love for thee made Him offer up His flesh and blood upon the altar of the cross, a sacrifice for thy sins; His love for thee made Him bequeath this same flesh and blood in an admirable sacrament, to unite thee to Himself for eternity. And shall not all this oblige thee to love Him, and to love Him with thy whole heart?
Consider 3rdly, that this love which we owe to our God, both as infinitely good in Himself and as infinitely good to us, must be a love of preference, that is, we must love Him above all things whatsoever. For he that loves his worldly honour, his interest, his pleasure, his own will, the gratifying his humours and passions, or the pleasing of any person, how near or dear soever, more than his God, is not worthy of God; but is guilty of high treason against Him, and of a kind of idolatry, in preferring the creature before the creator, who is blessed for evermore. And not only he that prefers any creature before God, but he that even offers to put himself, his own life, his dearest affections, or any other thing created, or even the whole creation in balance with his God, so as to love them as much as God, is in like manner unworthy of God, and offers him the greatest outrage imaginable; because the whole universe compared with God is a mere nothing, and therefore cannot, without an intolerable injury, be put in balance with Him. Ah what must I then think of myself, when I have so often preferred empty toys, mere vanities, and lying follies before the living God.
Conclude henceforward, at least, to love the Lord thy God above all things, and nothing else with Him, but what thou lovest for His sake, and with relation to Him. Cry out with St. Michael, Quis ut Deus? Who is like to God? And who but He deserves our heart?
On Loving God With Our Whole Heart
Consider first, that the first sacrifice which divine love calls for by this great commandment is that of our heart. My son, ‘give me thy heart,’ says the wisdom of God, Prov. xxiii. 26. This sacrifice must be of the whole heart, and in the nature of a holocaust, that is, of a sacrifice in which the whole victim is given to God without reserve, being first slain and then laid upon the altar of God, and there consumed with fire; even with that fire which originally came from heaven, Levit. ix. 24, and which was commanded to be kept always burning upon God’s altar. Wherefore, in this mystical sacrifice of love, this heart of ours, in order to be made a holocaust, should also first be slain, that is, should first die to itself; and to all its disorderly affections, by mortification and self-denial, and so be laid on God’s altar, to be wholly dedicated and consecrated to Him; and to evaporate, as it were, to Him in the flames of divine love, which is the true fire that comes down from heaven to carry us up thither, and which ought always to be kept burning in the mystical temple of God in our souls.
Consider 2ndly, how just, how reasonable, how necessary it is that we should love our God with our whole heart, so as to give no part of it away from Him, since it belongs wholly to Him by all manner of titles. He made our heart for Himself; to be the eternal seat and the living temple of His love, and He has given it a certain longing after Him, together with an immense capacity of love, which nothing less than God can fill or satisfy. He has shed His own most precious blood to purchase our heart, to cleanse it for Himself; and to fill it with His love. It has been solemnly dedicated, sanctified, and consecrated to Him at our baptism. He has sent His divine Spirit to take possession of it, to make it His kingdom, and to establish His throne in it. It must then be a most crying injustice if we offer to alienate any part of our heart from Him who claims it all upon so many titles. O Christians! let us give Him what is His without reserve; let us divert no part of this small heart of ours away from the immense Lord of heaven and earth; it would be a sacrilege to attempt it.
Consider 3rdly, that the love of God will not admit a divided heart, He will not suffer a rival in His kingdom, a partner in His throne, or an idol in His temple. Our God is a jealous God, and therefore, if we follow any other lovers, we lose His love and drive Him away from us. Alas! my soul, who is this that thou would’st associate with God in thy heart? Is it thy worldly pride, thy carnal affections, thy sensual inclinations? Assure thyself this love cannot endure such company as this. Or is it some favourite creature, which thou art unwilling to dislodge from the place it has occupied in thy heart? Ah! the bed is too narrow, it will not hold two, thou must either part with the creature or the creator. He loves God too little who loves anything else with him, which he does not love in Him for His sake, and with subordination to the love of Him.
Conclude to love thy friend in God, and thy enemy for God’s sake, and all such things as thou mayest lawfully love, according to the measure and rule prescribed by divine love; and thus no love of the creature will take off any part of thy heart from the love of the creator–thus thou shalt love Him with thy whole heart.
Act of Love
O my God, I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because Thou are all-good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and ask pardon of all whom I have injured.
Indulgence of 3 years. Raccolta 36.