As Spring fever enlivens us let us think of the love of God.
I am reminded of this chapter from "Morality Extracted from the Confessions of St. Augustine" by Pere Jean Nicolas Grou, S.J. I hope you find benefit in this too. If you would like to listen to me read this passage you can do so by clicking here.
It is not loving You enough, to love anything out of You, which we do not love for You.—B. 10, c. 29.
God is the center in which everything must end, as He is the principle from whence everything proceeds. It is in this general tendency of all created things towards God, that order consists: and that which is not referred to God swerves from order. But if there be anything which especially should be referred to God, they are our affections, it is our love. God does not forbid, nay, He orders us to love many things besides Himself; it is His will that we should love ourselves, it is His will that we should love our neighbor; this comprehends all mankind. We are to love all that He loves, in the manner in which He loves it: and God, according to Scripture, does not hate anything that He has made. He only hates sin; and sin is not His work.
But as God loves nothing but with a reference to Himself: and to say better, as it is Himself alone that He loves, in all that He does love; because the creature, being nothing of itself, has nothing that is amiable, but what God has placed in it: He will have man, who is made to His image, establish in his affections the same order which reigns in His affections. And it is principally in that, in which we ought to resemble God: in that does our moral goodness consist. For that which forms our good or bad morals, says St. Augustine, is our love either well or ill regulated; and the rule of our love should be taken only from God.
Hence our first rule is to love God sovereignly, and to draw as near as possible to the infinite love which He bears Himself. From this rule flows the second, which obliges us to refer to God every other love; that is to say, to love nothing out of God, but for His sake, and with a view to Him: in so much, that if God have no share in any one of our affections, it can be at most but morally good; and if He be excluded from it, it will be formally bad.
These two rules comprehend all: and our perfection is annexed to the punctual observance of them. When I say our perfection, I also mean our happiness, even present and actual, as much as the condition of this life can admit: for it is a certain principle that what con-tributes to render us perfect, contributes, on that very account, to render us happy.
It is therefore evident that we do not love God as much as we ought to love Him, when we love out of Him anything which we love not for His sake. The reason is, because, in that case, we do not love God in the manner in which He loves Himself; for God loves Himself in such manner, that He only loves for the sake of Himself, whatever He loves out of Himself; and He would not love Himself with an infinite love, He would not be God, if He could love Himself any other way. Now our love must be of the same nature as His: not that it is to be infinite, that is impossible; but it should be sovereign, and at once the principle and the term of all our other affections.
In the first place therefore, as God loves Himself for His own sake, and for the sake of His infinite perfections, we ought to love Him solely for His sake, and take from Him the motives of our love. This love, which has many degrees, is charity, without which there is no salvation. In the second place, since God, properly speaking, only loves Himself in all that He loves out of Himself, the love of charity, which we have for God, ought therefore to extend itself to all that we love out of God; it ought to be the motive, the rule, and the term of every other love; and to begin with ourselves: the love of our body, and of all things relative to the body, must be referred to the love of our soul, and the love of our soul must be referred to that which we bear to God; so that we should only love our soul inasmuch as we love God, with the love with which God loves it, in the same views, and for the same ends for which God loves it.
Have we ever understood this before now? And do we now con-ceive what kind of a monster self-love is, that love of ourselves which is referred to ourselves and to our own interests; and on how many occasions this love is opposite, not only to the perfection, but to the essence of the love of God? Do we conceive that self-love is the source of all our passions, of all our disorders, of all our sins, the only cause of our eternal perdition?
If the love of ourselves be well regulated, our love for our neighbor will necessarily be so; that is, if we refer to God the love which we have for ourselves, it follows that we also refer to Him the love which we have for our neighbor. For all the irregularity of our love for our neighbor proceeds from one of these two causes: either because we love him for our own sake, without a reference to God, or even excluding a reference to God, and in this case we love him improperly: or at least we love him with a love which is purely natural, which has nothing to do with the precept that God gives us of loving our neighbor: or because the love of ourselves forms an obstacle to the love which we owe to our neighbor; and in that case we wish him evil, and we seek to hurt him. Thus self-love is not less an enemy to the love of our neighbor than to the love of God: and as soon as we shall love God as much as we ought, self-love will cease to be prejudicial to the lawful love of ourselves, and to the love of our neighbor.
It seems to me that this truth well pondered is conducive both to our instruction and our confusion: I love not God enough, if I love out of Him, anything that I love not for Him. If this be incontestable, what must I think of my love for God? My affections, as well those for myself as those for my neighbor, are they all for God? Are they referred to God? Does God acknowledge them? Does He approve of them? All that passes in my heart, my habitual dis-positions, my free acts; in a word, has my whole conduct God and the love of Him for motive, for rule, and for term? If so, I labor to concentrate all my affections in the love of God, I am in the way of salvation and of holiness. If, on the contrary, I behold in myself a crowd of affections which do not tend to God, or that are even opposite to His love, I am in the way of imperfection, and possibly of damnation. I finish with observing that St. Augustine does not say, it is not loving God; but, it is not loving Him enough. All love that is not referred to God is not criminal, provided it does not exclude this reference. It is a love which has only a moral goodness, which has nothing in it that is supernatural, which God neither will re-ward nor punish. There is no obligation under sin, of referring all our actions to God through the motive of charity: it is only a point of perfection to which it is proper to exhort the faithful. The contrary opinion is an error condemned by the Church. Neither is there an obligation of acting in the habit of charity, else all the actions of Infidels and of Christians in the state of sin would be so many sins, which the Church has also condemned.