Back
2003-3

On Divine Charity

Love, the Ultimate Game


Blessed Dina Bélanger recounts how the Infant Jesus once challenged her: “Do you want to play at love?” She imagined herself His age and replied, “O yes, my dear Jesus.” “Very well,” He replied, “whichever of us loves most will be the winner.”
An inspiration occurred to me that I had a good change to score the most points in this game, and I said, “I am ready.”
– “I created you,” continued the Saviour, “I gave you the gift of faith from the earliest moments of your existence, I surrounded you with and bestowed on you innumerable and precious graces. I redeemed you, I pardoned you, I called you to the religious life. All this is My love. And yours?”
– “Jesus, I love You as much as I am able, and to prove my love I wish to refuse You nothing, not even the smallest sacrifice.”
– “I know”, he answered, “but My love is infinite. And yours?”
– “Mine, O divine Child, is infinite like Yours, because I love You with Your own Heart!”
– “You are right. Then the game is a tie. We have both won” (Autobiography, pp. 109-110).


The Earnestness of Divine Love

Our happiness depends on playing this ‘game of love’ well. Without love, we are nothing (cf. 1 Cor 13,2). Love is like a game, yet still it is the law of life. How awesome it is that God commands us to love Him. Not with just any love; we are to love Him as our Father, as the spouse of our soul! Who would ever have dared to love God in such an intimate fashion, had He not first commanded it? Could we have really believed the command, if He had not first become man, living and revealing this measureless love for us by stretching out His arms on the Cross of love?

God prepared mankind for this love throughout the OT, by the covenantal promise to Abraham, by the Old Law given through Moses to Israel. While the Mosaic Law had the harshness (hard shell) of justice, it also had the kernel of love in the hope of the promised Messiah. Thus the dynamism of the Old Law was both the fear of punishment and hope in the Redeemer. In this Circular Letter, we shall first compare the ‘law of fear’ to the law of love in order to stimulate even more our esteem and gratitude for the gift offered us in Christ’s love. And then we shall ponder on the very nature of love.

The Law of Fear versus the Law of Love

To gain life, we must keep the commandments; to achieve perfection, we must follow Christ wholeheartedly (cf. Mk 10, 19-21). There are only two ways to induce man to do the good and to withhold him from doing evil: by the external coercion of fear or by the internal motivation of love.

The 10 Commandments, which recapitulate the whole natural law, are a masterpiece of brevity, which even a child can memorize and fulfill. Since the Law of Sinai lacked the internal force of sanctifying grace, it was enjoined with a threat of punishment for those who failed to fulfill it.

It is often complained, that the 10 Commandments are so negative, that they are foreign to the law of love. Each of these contentions is radically false. Though many of the commandments are negative in formulation (e.g., “Thou shalt not steal.”), this comes from the fact that in the OT God contented Himself with demanding only the minimal requirements. You see, negative commandments are the easiest to fulfill precisely in this: they exclude only the one area of prohibited sin, while leaving us complete freedom in every other regard, for example, the enjoyment of one’s own possessions. The Law of love goes far beyond this not only forbidding, say, theft, but enjoining solicitude for our neighbor in his need: “But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 Jn 3,17).

Even when negatively expressed, the 10 Commandments are still fundamentally commandments of love. St. Paul instructed the Romans, saying: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (13,8-10).

Similarly, Our Lord Himself taught that the two greatest commandments (greater brevity still!) sum up the whole law: “Jesus answered, The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12, 29-31). “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22,40).

If we view the Commandments only negatively, we will feel them as an burden and as restraint. Our life will be servile and filled with fear. If we view the Commandments in the light of love, we will come to see them as a guide and path to freedom. We will come to enjoy the freedom of the children of God. “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but thy commandment is exceedingly broad. Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119,96-97).

St. Paul exhorts us, “Make love your aim” (1 Cor 14,1).To foster even more this positive appreciation of the New Low of Love in Christ, let us consider several advantages of the New Law of Love over the Old Law. The 10 commandments, of course, are not made obsolete by the New Law but are more easily fulfilled by the abundance of Christ’s grace an charity. The saints of the OT were inspired by their hope in the Messiah and by their love for God, whereas many today avoid sin principally out of fear of punishment (cf. Catechism of Catholic Church=CCC nr. 1964).

1. “Because of sin, which [the Old Law] cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage” (CCC, nr. 1963). It was only by the Blood of Christ that we have been freed of our sins (cf. Heb 9,28; 10,4.10-14). Hence, the Old Law made us servants, while the New Law of love makes us sons of God (and friends of Christ: “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal 3,26), and: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. ... This I command you, to love one another” (Jn 15,14-15.17). Moreover, in the grace of Christ, “charity covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4,8).

2. The Old Law with its numerous precepts was burdensome and hard to fulfill: “Why then do you now try to test God by putting on the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (cf. Acts 15,10); Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light (cf. Mt 11,30).

3. “Even though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through Whom ‘God’s charity has been poured into our hearts’” (CCC, nr. 1964, citing St. Thomas and Rom 5,5).

4. Under the Old Law, the tabernacle and temple of God’s presence was something extrinsic to man. Now by charity God indwells in our heart. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? ...God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Cor 3, 16.17).

5. “The Law of the Gospel ‘fulfills,’ refines, surpasses, and leads the Old Law to its perfection (cf. Mt 5,17-19). In the Beatitudes, the New Law fulfills the divine promises by elevating and orienting them toward the ‘kingdom of heaven’ ”(CCC, nr. 1967).

6. The mystery of salvation, which was revealed but dimly in the OT, is brought to perfection in the revelation and light of Christ in the NT: “from His fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1,16-18).

In summation: short of heaven itself, there is no greater gift that God could have given us than this share in His life (by grace) and in His Love in Christ, for in them eternal life has already taken root in our hearts, through them we attain all that is good, and without them nothing is good.

On the Nature of Love

Complacency: Love’s Delight

To love, to know the beloved, to be loved and to be known by the beloved: nothing is more desirable! Short of these we can never be fully happy. What is love? Love is not longing, but the explanation of every longing. Love is not joy, but the principle of every joy. Love is not knowledge, but a response to knowledge and the hunger for more. Love is not the good, but an inclination towards it.

Love is about goodness. Love and goodness are so closely related, that they define one another: goodness is that which all love; love is the inclination, the movement towards the good. Love has two ultimate movements to which all other actions of the will are reducible: complacence and benevolence.

Love is the principle of the will’s motion by which we tend towards some good as a goal. The attractive power of the good comes from a certain link or correspondence between the will and the goodness perceived. This is what is meant by the complacence of love: the delight of resting in a befitting, chosen goodness. (cf. Summa Theol. I-II.26,1,c). On the natural level it can be compared to the attraction between a magnet and iron, between a nursing child and a mother nursing it at her breast.

“The will has so great a sympathy with the good that as soon as it perceives goodness, it turns towards it to delight in it as in its most agreeable object. ... The will then perceiving and feeling the good, by the help of the understanding which proposes it, feels at the same time a sudden delight and complacency at this meeting, which sweetly yet powerfully moves her toward this pleasing object in order to unite herself with it, and makes her search out the means necessary to get it” (St. Francis de Sales. The Love of God, I,7).

Such goodness gives delight in its very perception, and joy in its possession. We are drawn to the good, it beckons to us. We, for our part, are inclined to step forward to embrace it. This inclination to step forward, to embrace goodness is the first act of love, is complacency or delight. It is a joy which precedes the joy of possession! It is prior even to the joy of anticipation, it is the joy in the simple and pure perception of the good, chosen in this moment. It is an exaltation of the heart (will) approving joyfully its choice of love. One wants to sing out exuberantly for love: “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Ps 47,1).

“Oh!” says the devout soul then, “how beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful you are! You are all desirable, yes, you are desire itself. ‘Such is my beloved and He is my friend, O you daughters of Jerusalem’” (St. Francis, loc. cit. V.1, citing Cant 5,16). Yes, God becomes the “God of our heart, our portion for ever” (Ps 119,10.57) only through the complacency of love (St. Francis, V,1).

Complacency: the Beginnning of creaturely Love

How important it is to understand, that complacency is the only possible beginning for our love as creatures; it will also be our rest. We are born (created) in poverty, yet ‘rich’ in the longing for happiness. The search for happiness begins and ends with love; it is the full history of our lives. Ultimately, everything we do comes down to love, because everything we do is aimed - directly or indirectly - towards some good we are inclined to (= love), which is somehow proportional to our person by nature or grace.

With respect to things (e.g., food and water, music and science), we love these fittingly as means which help us towards the final goal. We love their pleasurable, useful goodness; thus, we love them for ourselves. When loved and used properly, this is a temperate, concupiscible love. This too pertains to the love of complacency.

The Ambivalence of Complacency, whence the Danger

Complacency, however, cannot long remain simple complacency, but soon becomes either noble or ignoble complacency (= disordered concupiscence). Complacency is like fresh grape juice, very sweet and tasty. Yet, if it is not quickly and properly cared for, that is, turned into a noble wine, it will go sour and become an unpal-atable vinegar.

George Washington [the first president of the USA] once observed: “Government, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master!” The same applies here: “complacency, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master!” How necessary fire is, but how terrible it becomes when it gets out of hand.

These two points explain why some people wish to skip over complacency and go straight to the perfection of love, whose formal perfection lies principally in benevolence, though not exclusively.

Notwithstanding, complacency cannot be banished. Without complacency there can be no happiness, not even in God. Did he not say, “You art My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Mk 1,11; cf. 2 Pt 1,17). This applies both to the Father’s love for the Son in their eternal, divine union as well as with respect to the Father’s love for the created humanity of Christ.

God did not create because He was looking for joy or for happiness, rather He created because he was looking to share His joy and happiness. Thus, in the matter of love, the created order is the reverse the divine order. It is Blessed Trinity’s benevolent love which moved God in pure freedom to share His goodness by creating. And once creation stood before Him, He took delight in His creatures’ goodness: “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1,31). But with creatures, love begins with complacency and can only proceed to benevolence from this starting point.

With regard to things, noble complacency consists in using them profitably and enjoyably as means to our true end. With respect to things complacency becomes ignoble when it ends up making their enjoyment, the goal of love: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the Cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body” (Phil 3,18-21).

With respect to persons (creatures and God) the link with complacency is more subtle. Holy complacency is often misunderstood, for which reason man easily falls from noble to ignoble complacency. We will deal with this more at length in the next Circular Letter on temperance. Here, le it suffice it to point to the essential mark of noble complacency in personal relationships.

Complacency is an act of love with self-interest: there is delight in the beloved, for the beloved is good for me. While it is true that this is an imperfect motive of love, it is nevertheless a good motive, provided it not end there. Who would deny the goodness of a patient’s grateful love for the doctor who saved his life? of an athlete’s grateful love for his trainer who helped him to a gold medal? Indeed, we even experience the complacence of love in considering the excellence and accomplishment of great athletes!

Note, that in this complacence we rejoice in the other’s goodness (excellence), without trying to separate that goodness from the one loved. Rather, we rejoice that that goodness is in them, we want it to remain theirs. And it becomes ours precisely through our delight in it being theirs. By going out to them in an outpouring of love, it is not they who become ours, but rather we become theirs in the complacence of love. (In the ‘religion’ of sports, the fans belong more to the athletic hero, than the hero does to the fans. And still, he is ‘their’ hero!)

By our delight in God’s goodness, we become His through this love of complacence, and only then does He become ours: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Cant 6,3). This is a noble complacency, whereby we are the beneficiaries of the goodness of the beloved, but nevertheless take delight in the fact that this beauty and goodness belong to our beloved.

How different is complacence when it turns sensual, such that the lover wants only to have, taste, savor and use the goodness of the beloved for self, without regard for the well being of the beloved. True love is noble, true love is coupled with reverence, indeed, a kind of veneration by which we become humbled in our own sight in relation to the beloved. True love tends to be ever more personal, tend ever more towards spiritual union, without, however, denying the body. In the case of marriage, for instance, conjugal union should be an expression and a sign of the personal gift of love and mutual delight.

Benevolence: the Root of Hope

Speaking of the nobility of complacency and applying it to hope (which adds the aspect of future and arduous to complacency), St. Francis de Sales writes: “The love which we practice in hope goes indeed to God, but it returns to us; its sight is turned upon the divine goodness, yet with some respect to our own profit; it tends to that supreme perfection, but aiming at our own satisfaction. That it to say, it bears us to God, not because He is sovereignly good in Himself, but because He is sovereignly good to us, in which as you see there is something of the ‘our’ and the ‘us’, so that this love is truly love, but love of cupidity and self-interest.

Yet I do not say that it does in such sort return to ourselves that it makes us love God only for the love of ourselves; O God! No: for the soul which should only love God for the love of herself, placing the end of the love which she bears to God in her own interest, would - alas! - commit an extreme sacrilege. If a wife loved her husband only for the love of his servant, she would love her husband as a servant, and his servant as a husband: and the soul that only loves God for love of herself, loves herself as she ought to love God, and God as she ought to love herself. ...”

“When I say I love God for myself, it is as if I said: I love to have God, I love that God should be mine, should be my sovereign good; which is a holy affection of the heavenly spouse, who a hundred times in excess of delight protests: ‘My beloved to me, and I to Him, Who feeds among the lilies’ (Cant 2,16).”

... when we love God as our sovereign good, we love Him for a quality by which we do not refer Him to us but ourselves to Him. We are not His end, aim, or perfection, but He is ours; He does not appertain to us, but we to Him; He depends not on us but we on Him; and, in a word, by the quality of the sovereign good for which we love Him, He receives nothing of us, but we receive of Him. ... to love God under the title of sovereign good is to love Him under an honorable and respectful title, by which we acknowledge Him to be our perfection, repose and end, in the fruition of which our felicity consists” (loc. cit. II.17).

The Love of Benevolence

Benevolence is the perfect form of love, whereby we love another for their own sake and wish to contribute to their well being according to our means. By the benevolence of Charity we are to love God above all things else, with our whole heart, with our whole mind, with our whole soul, and with all our strength.

“To love God:

*above all other things means to prefer Him to all creatures, even the dearest and most perfect, and to be willing to lose everything rather than offend Him or cease to love Him;

*with our whole heart means consecrating all our affections to Him;

*with our whole mind means directing all our thoughts to Him;

*with our whole soul means consecrating to Him the use of all the powers of our soul;

*with all our strength means striving to grow ever more and more in His love, and so to act that all our actions should have as their one motive and end the love of Him and the desire of pleasing Him” (Catechism of St. Pius X).

Birth and Growth of Benevolence

Now that we know somewhat the essence, place and perfection of benevolence, it remains only to see its ‘birth’ and growth in the soul. For in this consists the real science and wisdom of the saints. Here, we may understand why some race ahead and some stay behind. In this matter there are those who falsely hold that growth in charity ought really be a matter of bleak austerity, of painfully biting the bullet. Consciously or unconsciously they hold complacency in suspicion, they feel it should be eliminated for the sake of benevolence. But consider the matter properly: charity is the very essence of God, Who is infinitely happy in Himself. If there is no room for holy complacency in heaven, there would be no happiness there. Not only does the complacence of love go before benevolence, but benevolence opens the door to a still greater and holier delight in the beloved. Surely, holy complacency has its legitimate place in the heart of charity.

St. Francis de Sales discovers the hidden genesis of benevolent love within complacency itself. “Our love towards God”, he asserts, “begins from the complacency which we have in the sovereign goodness and infinite perfection we know to be in the Divinity, then we come to the exercise of benevolence.”

How does this transition take place? He answers: “Just as the complacence which God takes in His creatures is nothing other than a continuation of His benevolence towards them, even so is the benevolence [of love] which we bear God nothing else than an approbation and perseverance in the complacence we have in Him (His goodness)!” (loc. cit. V, 6).

Not only is complacence the beginning of creaturely love, it is the only path to the perfection of love in the fullness of charity, namely in benevolence of love, whereby we love God for His own sake.

You have certainly heard of a “vicious circle”! Well here we meet the ultimate virtuous circle, for complacency begets benevolence, and benevolence begets even greater complacency. We begin to take delight in the goodness of God, and by pondering it more deeply we begin to love and praise Him for His own sake. Thus we penetrate more deeply into His goodness and delight the more therein.

Then seeing that words are insufficient to praise Him, we desire to glorify Him with our life; we strive for perfection, not for our sake, but for His glory and to please Him. In turn, the manifestation of His approbation in our love by His consolations, delights us the more.

Now, we become missionaries of His love; we want all men and all creatures to praise His name. We rejoice in the perfection of the saints, especially in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who only and always glorified God. We adore the Sacred Heart of Jesus with renewed understanding and affection: as our God-human High Priest He alone could offer the Father praise and glory befitting His Name. We long for heaven to join with the angels and saints in their awesome unending hymn of praise: “Holy, Holy Holy...”

Benevolent love purifies and augments even more our delight in loving God; the two fan one another to new intensity. “The perpetual contentment of heavenly lovers produces a desire perpetually content, as their continual desire begets in them a contentment perpetually desired. ... The infinite good makes desire reign in possession and possession in desire” (loc.cit. V,3).

In a word, the asceticism of charity is the holy inter-play between benevolent and complacent love in our union with God. Finally, we rejoice in the infinite, eternal glorification which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit offer one another

“as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.”