A sermon on the Love of God by St. Jean-Marie Vianney for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” — Luke x, 27.
We read in the Gospel, my dear brethren, that a young man approached Jesus Christ, and said to Him: “Master, what must I do to possess eternal life?” Jesus Christ answered him: “What is written in the law?” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” the young man answered, “with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself. I do all these things.” “Well, then,” Jesus Christ answered him, “sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have a treasure in heaven.” Jesus Christ wished to demonstrate that it is by deeds and not by words that we show whether we really love God. “If,” says St. Gregory, “to love Him it sufficed to say that we loved Him, this love would not be so uncommon; for there is certainly no one who, if they were asked whether they loved God, would not immediately answer that they loved Him with their whole heart. The just would say so, and so would the sinner. The just, however, would say so, trembling, like St. Peter, while the sinner probably would say so in a confident manner to make the impression of sincerity; only he deceives himself, for the love of God does not count in words but in deeds.” Yes, my dear friends, to love God is something so fair, so reasonable, and so natural that those among us whose mode of life is inconsistent with it, still imagine and are convinced that they love Him. And this, dear brethren, is because we all seek happiness, and the love of God alone can procure it for us. And this is the reason why even the sinner endeavours to convince himself that he loves God. At the same time nothing is really so rare as the true love of God. Let us see in what this love consists, and how we may know whether we love God. To understand this better, let us consider what God has done for love of us, and what we ought to do for love of Him.
It is a fact, dear brethren, that God has created us for the sole purpose to love Him and to serve Him. Why, dear brethren, did God plant into our hearts a craving for something so great and so magnificent that nothing created can satisfy it? So that we might thereby be induced to cling firmly to Him, and to love Him, because He alone can satisfy us. If man possessed the whole world, he would still not be contented; there would always be something wanting for our complete happiness, and yet we are so convinced that we are created to be happy, that we never in our life cease to seek happiness, and to do everything that we possibly can to attain it. What is the reason, then, that regardless of all our endeavours, our pains, and our labours, we can never feel contented? It is because we do not direct our attention and our mind toward that object which alone is capable of fulfilling our desires, toward God. Believe me, dear friends, seek the friendship of God, and then you will have found happiness. And in order that you may feel urgently impelled to love so good a God, who is so worthy of being loved, and so able to satisfy perfectly all the desires of our hearts, let us briefly consider what our God has done for us, let us follow the course of His life until His death.
Consider Him, dear brethren, from the moment of His Incarnation until His thirtieth year. Are there not the greatest proofs of His love for us? At His Incarnation He became man like us and for us. By His birth He has exalted us to the highest dignity to which a mere creature can be raised. He made us His brothers! O what love of us! Have we ever rightly understood it? At His presentation in the Temple He offered Himself up to His Father to redeem us all. Later, in the home of St. Joseph, He became a model of the love and respect which we should have for our parents and superiors. In His active life, everything that He did was done for us: His prayers, His tears, His nightly vigils, His fasts, His sermons, His journeys, His conversations, His miracles-He did all these things for our salvation. Observe, dear brethren, with what zeal He sought us in the person of the Samaritan woman; behold, with what fervent love He receives sinners in the person of the prodigal son; see with what meekness He condones the justice of His Father who would punish us in the person of the adulteress. In His life of suffering, what abuses, what torments did He endure? He is bound, and struck in the face with clenched fists, accused, condemned, and finally crucified for us. And did He not die for us, under the most cruel and most indescribable sufferings?
Ah, my dear brethren, who can understand what He has done for us? Jesus Christ could have made satisfaction for our sins to the justice of the Father by one drop of His blood, by one tear, but that which could satisfy justice could not satisfy the fervent love of His heart for us. It is His love of us again which caused Him to anticipate the sufferings which He was to undergo upon the cross. O abyss of tenderness, of a God-love for His creatures!
Let us go still further, dear friends. This divine Redeemer wishes to shed the last drop of His precious blood for us, to cleanse us from all our misdeeds. After atoning for our pride by His crowning with thorns, for our countless sins of the tongue by the gall and vinegar, the sins of impurity by the cruel and painful scourging, all our wicked actions by the wounds of His hands and His feet, He wished to expiate all our evil desires by the wound of His divine Heart, because it is in the heart that all our sins have their source. O miracle of the love of a God for His creatures!
But His love goes still further. When He saw that He would soon be separated from us by death, He worked a great miracle so as to remain always with us: He instituted the great Sacrament of love, wherein He left us His most adorable flesh and His most precious blood, so as never more to forsake us until the end of the world. What love for us, my dear brethren! A God wishes to feed our soul with His own Being! In this great and adorable Sacrament He offers Himself daily to the justice of God, makes satisfaction again for our sins, and obtains all kinds of graces for us.
No, dear brethren, you have never reflected upon it, how much God loves us. Would it be possible for us to sin and offend Him when we can only be happy by loving Him? If I were to ask you if you loved God, you would say without doubt, yes, we love Him; but that is not sufficient, you must give proof of this. But where, dear brethren, are the proofs which reveal the sincerity of our love of God? What sacrifices do we make for Him? Where are our works of penance? The little good which we do is done often without a right intention. Other considerations than the love of God often prompt us to do good works, and the good deeds done purely for the love of God are, alas, but few.
If, my dear brethren, you wish to know now, how we can tell whether we really love God, listen to what I am going to say to you, and then judge for yourselves whether you have that true love. Observe that Jesus Christ Himself has said to us: ” Whosoever loves me, keeps my commandments, but he who does not love me, does not keep them.” It is, therefore, very easy for you to know whether or not you love God. The commandments, my friends, and the will of God, are one and the same thing. He commands and He wills that you should fulfill the duties of your state of life, conscientiously and sincerely. He commands us to believe in Him, and to be faithful to Him. The Saints, and particularly the Martyrs, proved their love of God by suffering persecution and death rather than be unfaithful to God.
God’s will is that we be subject and respectful to our parents, our superiors, and all those whom God has placed over us to guide us. It is the will of God that superiors should treat those under them without overbearing or harshness, with love and kindness, as they should wish to be treated themselves. It is the will of God that we should be kind and charitable toward every one, and that we should feel contempt for the praise or the censure of men.
St. Ambrose tells us: “If any one despises us, we ought not be troubled, but think, on the contrary, that if they really knew us as we are, they would say much worse about us.” Or as St. John says: “When any one reviles us, it is the will of God that we should be ready to forgive them, and to embrace every opportunity of doing them a service.” His will says, that we should never give way to gluttony; that in our conversations we should conceal and excuse our neighbour’s faults. It is the will of God that in all our sufferings we should not murmur, but bear them patiently and with resignation to His will. God wills that we acknowledge that all things come from Him, and that they will serve for our good if we only make the right use of them.
This, dear brethren, is what the commandments demand of us. If you love God, as you say you do, you will do all these things. You will conduct yourself in this way. If not, then no matter how often you may repeat that you love Him, St. John tells you that you are liars, and that the truth is not in you. Let us examine, my friends, our conduct and our way of living, and then let us consider closely our actions.
Night and morning, you fold your hands and say in your prayers: “My God, I love Thee with my whole heart, and above all things.” And when so praying you believe that you are speaking the truth; and yet a few hours later your hands may be busy injuring your neighbor, or used to indulge in drunkenness and gluttony, and your mouth, which has expressed your love of God will, perhaps, be soiled with oaths, tale-bearing, calumnies, and all sorts of slander, thus dishonouring and abusing that same God to whom you have just said that you love Him with your whole heart. Do your actions prove your words? Suppose, for example, you would go to a good friend of yours, take him by the hand, and assure him of your great love and faithfulness, and then go about, abuse his good name, work against his best interests, and do everything possible to offend him. What would you think of such action? Wouldn’t it be just the most shameful way to act? And yet, do you not treat in such manner your best friend, your creator, your God?
Alas, our miserable body induces us unceasingly to do evil, while our conscience and the inspirations of grace encourage us to do good. Dear brethren, to love God means to struggle; it means to resist courageously all temptations. In this way we shall give proofs of the love which we have for God; it will enable us to rather sacrifice all than sin against so good a God.
St. Justin tells us that love has generally three effects: Those whom we love we delight in thinking of, in giving them anything, and in suffering for them gladly. This is what we should do for God, my dear brethren, if we really love Him. I say that we should often think of God. Nothing is more natural than to think of those whom we love. Look at a miser. Is he not completely taken up with his possessions, and the means to increase them? Whether he be alone or with other people, nothing is capable of diverting him from these thoughts. Look at the worldling. The object of his love will occupy his mind till he ceases to breathe. O if we would really love Jesus Christ only even as much as the miser does his money and treasures, as the drunkard his drink, as the sensual man the object of his passion, should we not be continually occupied with the love and the glory of Jesus Christ? Alas, my dear friends, we busy ourselves with a thousand worthless things, but we spend hours and days without thinking of God. And yet, have we, dear brethren, among our friends, one more generous, or more beneficent? I say, if we really love God, we shall give Him everything which we possibly can give Him with the greatest pleasure. If we have wealth, let us share it with the poor, and it will be the same as if it were given to Jesus Christ Himself. “Whatsoever you do to the least of these my brethren, you give it unto me.” What an honour, my friends, for a creature to be able to be generous toward his Creator, his God, and his Redeemer! It is not only the rich who can give, but all Christians, even the poorest. We are not all wealthy so as to be able to give to Jesus Christ in the persons of His poor, but we all have a heart, and it is just this gift which He prizes so highly. He urgently desires it. I ask you, dear brethren, can we refuse Him that, which He so earnestly desires, He, who has only created us for Himself? Ah, if we considered this rightly, should we not say to the divine Redeemer: “Lord, I am only a sinner, have mercy upon me. Behold, I am Thine only”? How happy should we be if we could make this sacrifice for God! How great would be our reward! The best proof of love, however, which we can give to God, is when we suffer for His sake, for if we would consider properly what He has suffered for us, we could not help but bear patiently all the wants of life, the persecutions, the sicknesses, the weaknesses.
We must conclude from all this, my friends, that our whole and our only happiness upon earth depends upon our fidelity to God. In all our actions, God alone must be our aim, for we all know from our own experience, that nothing in this world can make us happy; the whole world, with all its possessions and its pleasure, cannot satisfy our hearts. Never lose sight of the fact, dear brethren, that everything created will forsake us. There will come a time when everything earthly that we possess will pass into other hands. But if we have the great happiness of possessing the love of God we shall reign in heaven in a bliss that will last for all eternity. Love God, and prove your love by serving Him faithfully, and ardently strive to possess Him, and the love of God will be your salvation at the hour of death. Amen.