A sermon on the Love of Jesus Christ for us, and on our obligations to love Him by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri for the Fourth Sunday Of Advent
“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” – Luke 3:6
The Saviour of the world, whom, according to the prediction of the Prophet Isaias, men were one day to see on this Earth (“and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”), has already come. We have not only seen Him conversing among men, but we have also seen Him suffering and dying for the love of us. Let us, then, this morning consider the love which we owe to Jesus Christ at least through gratitude for the love which He bears to us. In the first point we shall consider the greatness of the love which Jesus Christ has shown to us; and in the second we shall see the greatness of our obligations to love Him.
First point. On the great love which Jesus Christ has shown to us.
“Christ”, says St Augustine, “came on earth that men might know how much God loves them”. He has come, and, to show the immense love which this God bears us, He has given Himself entirely to us, by abandoning Himself to all the pains of this life, and afterwards to the scourges, to the thorns, and to all the sorrows and insults which He suffered in His passion, and by offering Himself to die, abandoned by all, on the infamous tree of the cross. “Who loves me, and delivered himself for me” – Gal. 2:20.
Jesus Christ could save us without dying on the cross, and without suffering. One drop of His blood would be sufficient for our redemption. Even a prayer offered to His Eternal Father would be sufficient; because, on account of His divinity, His prayer would be of infinite value, and would therefore be sufficient for the salvation of the world, and of a thousand worlds “But”, says St Chrysostom, or another ancient author, “what was sufficient for redemption, was not sufficient for love”. To show how much He loved us, He wished to shed not only a part of His blood, but the entirety of it by dint of torments. This may be inferred from the words which He used on the night before His death: “This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many” – Matt. 26:28. The words shall be shed show that, in His passion, the blood of Jesus Christ was poured forth even to the last drop. Hence, when after death His side was opened with a spear, blood and water came forth, as if what then flowed was all that remained of His blood. Jesus Christ, then, though He could save us without suffering, wished to embrace a life of continual pain, and to suffer the cruel and ignominious death of the cross. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” – Phil. 2:8.
“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” – John, 15:13. To show His love for us, what more could the Son of God do than die for us? What more can one man do for another than give his life for him? “Greater love than this no man hath”. Tell me, my brother, if one of your servants – if the vilest man on this earth had done for you what Jesus Christ has done in dying through pain on a cross, could you remember His love for you, and not love Him?
St Francis of Assisi appeared to be unable to think of anything but the passion of Jesus Christ; and, in thinking of it, he continually shed tears, so that by his constant weeping he became nearly blind. Being found one day weeping and groaning at the foot of the crucifix, he was asked the cause of his tears and lamentations. He replied: “I weep over the sorrows and ignominies of my Lord. And what makes me weep still more, is, that the men for whom He has suffered so much, live in forgetfulness of Him.”
O Christian, should a doubt ever enter your mind that Jesus Christ loves you, raise your eyes and look at Him hanging on the cross. Ah! says St Thomas of Villanova, the cross to which He is nailed, the internal and external sorrows which He endures, and the cruel death which He suffers for you, are convincing proofs of the love which He bears you. Do you not, says St Bernard, hear the voice of that cross, and of those wounds, crying out to make you feel that He truly loves you?
St Paul says that the love which Jesus Christ has shown in condescending to suffer so much for our salvation, should excite us to His love more powerfully than the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the painful journey to Calvary, the agony of three hours on the cross, the buffets, the spitting in His face, and all the other injuries which the Saviour endured. According to the Apostle, the love which Jesus has shown us not only obliges, but in a certain manner forces and constrains us, to love a God who has loved us so much. “For the charity of Christ presseth us” – II Cor. 5:14. On this text St Francis de Sales says: “We know that Jesus the true God has loved us so as to suffer death, and even the death of the cross, for our salvation. Does not such love put our hearts as it were under a press, to force from them love by a violence which is stronger in proportion as it is more amiable?”
So great was the love which inflamed the enamoured heart of Jesus, that He not only wished to die for our redemption, but during His whole life, He sighed ardently for the day on which He should suffer death for the love of us. Hence, during His life, Jesus used to say: “I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptised; and how am I straitened until it be accomplished” – Luke 12:50. In my passion I am to be baptised with the baptism of my own blood, to wash away the sins of men. “And how am I straitened!” How, says St Ambrose, explaining this passage, am I straitened by the desire of the speedy arrival of the day of my death. Hence, on the night before His passion He said: “With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you before I suffer” – Luke 22:15.
“We have”, says St Lawrence Justinian, “seen wisdom become foolish through an excess of love”. We have, he says, seen the Son of God become as it were a fool, through the excessive love which He bore to men. Such, too, was the language of the Gentiles, when they heard the Apostles preaching that Jesus Christ suffered death for the love of men. “But we”, says St Paul, “preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, unto the Gentiles foolishness” – I Cor. 1:23. Who, they exclaimed, can believe that a God, most happy in Himself, and who stands in need of no one, should take human flesh and die for the love of men, who are His creatures? This would be to believe that a God became foolish for the love of men. “It appears folly”, says St Gregory, “that the Author of Life should die for men” – hom. vi. But, whatever infidels may say or think, it is of faith that the Son of God has shed all His blood for the love of us, to wash away the sins of our souls. “Who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” – Apoc. 1:5. Hence, the saints were struck dumb with astonishment at the consideration of the love of Jesus Christ. At the sight of the crucifix, St Francis of Paul could do nothing but exclaim, O love! O love! O love!
“Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end” – John 13:1. This loving Lord was not content with showing us His love by dying on the cross for our salvation; but, at the end of His life, He wished to leave us His own very flesh for the food of our souls, that thus He might unite Himself entirely to us. “Take ye and eat, this is my body” – Mat. 26:26. But of this gift and this excess of love we shall speak at another time, in treating of the most Holy Sacrament of the altar. Let us pass to the second point.
Second point. On the greatness of our obligation to love Jesus Christ.
He who loves wishes to be loved. “When”, says St Bernard, “God loves, He desires nothing else than to be loved” – ser. lxxxiii. In Cant. The Redeemer said: “I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?” – Luke 12:49. I, says Jesus Christ, came on earth to light up the fire of divine love in the hearts of men, “and what will I but that it be kindled?” God wishes nothing else from us than to be loved. Hence the holy Church prays in the following words: “We beseech Thee, O Lord, that the Spirit may inflame us with that fire which Jesus Christ cast upon the earth, and which He vehemently wished to be kindled”. Ah! What have not the saints, inflamed with this fire, accomplished! They have abandoned all things – delights, honours, the purple and the sceptre – that they might burn with this holy fire. But you will ask what are you to do, that you too may be inflamed with the love of Jesus Christ. Imitate David: “In my meditation a fire shall flame out” – Ps. 38. Meditation is the blessed furnace in which the holy fire of divine love is kindled. Make mental prayer every day, meditate on the passion of Jesus Christ, and doubt not but you too shall burn with this blessed flame.
St Paul says, that Jesus Christ died for us to make Himself the Master of the hearts of all. “To this end Christ died and rose again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” – Rom. 14:9. He wished, says the Apostle, to give His life for all men, without a single exception, that not even one should live any longer for himself, but that all might live only to that God who condescended to die for them. “And Christ died for all, that they also who live may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them” – II Cor. 5:15.
Ah! To correspond to the love of this God, it would be necessary that another God should die for Him, as Jesus Christ died for us. O ingratitude of men! A God has condescended to give His life for their salvation, and they will not even think on what He has done for them! Ah! If each of you thought frequently on the sufferings of the Redeemer, and on the love which He has shown to us in His passion, how could you but love Him with your whole hearts? To him who sees with a lively faith the Son of God suspended by three nails on an infamous gibbet, every wound of Jesus speaks and says: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God”. Love, O man, thy Lord and thy God, who has loved thee so intensely. Who can resist such tender expressions! “The wounds of Jesus Christ”, says St Bonaventure, “wound the hardest hearts, and inflame frozen souls”.
“Oh! If you knew the mystery of the cross!” said St Andrew the Apostle to the tyrant by whom he was tempted to deny Jesus Christ. O tyrant, if you knew the love which your Saviour has shown you by dying on the cross for your salvation, instead of tempting me, you would abandon all the goods of this Earth to give yourself to the love of Jesus Christ.
I conclude, my most beloved brethren, by recommending you henceforth to meditate every day on the passion of Jesus Christ. I shall be content, if you daily devote to this meditation a quarter of an hour. Let each at least procure a crucifix: let him keep it in his room, and from time to time give a glance at it, saying: Ah! My Jesus, Thou has died for me, and I do not love thee! Had a person suffered for a friend, injuries, buffets, and prisons, he would be greatly pleased to find that they were remembered and spoken of with gratitude. But he should be greatly displeased if the friend for whom they had been borne, were unwilling to think or to hear of His sufferings. Thus frequent meditation on His passion is very pleasing to our Redeemer; but the neglect of it greatly provokes His displeasure. Oh! How great will be the consolation which we shall receive in our last moments from the sorrows and death of Jesus Christ, if, during life, we shall have frequently meditated on them with love! Let us not wait till others, at the hour of death, place in our hands the crucifix; let us not wait till they remind us of all that Jesus Christ suffered for us. Let us, during life, embrace Jesus Christ crucified; let us keep ourselves always united to Him, that we may live and die with Him. He who practises devotion to the passion of Our Lord, cannot but be devoted to the dolours of Mary, the remembrance of which will be to us a source of great consolation at the hour of death. Oh! How profitable and sweet the meditation of Jesus on the cross! Oh! How happy the death of him who dies in the embraces of Jesus crucified, accepting death with cheerfulness for the love of that God who has died for the love of us!