Humble and Reverent Love
Presence of God – O God, who art so great, deign to lift up my soul, so small and miserable, to Yourself.
The love which audaciously urges the soul on to the conquest of divine union is, at the same time, full of reverence and respect, for the soul understands, much better than before, how sublime and lofty is the majesty of God. If, on the one hand, love makes it impatient to be united to Him, on the other, the clear and continual consciousness of its misery renders it more eager than ever to keep strict watch over its conduct, so that nothing may be found in it which could displease such great majesty.
“The soul,” says the Mystical Doctor, “immediately perceives in itself a genuine determination and an effective desire to do naught which it understands to be an offense to God, and to omit to do naught that seems to be for His service. For that dark love cleaves to the soul, causing it a most watchful care and inward solicitude concerning that which it must do, or must not do, for His sake, in order to please Him. It will consider and ask itself a thousand times if it has given Him cause to be offended” (John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul II, 16,14). Evidently there is question here of something far exceeding mere flight from sin: it is the firm resolution to shun every imperfection, omission, or voluntary negligence; and since the soul knows from experience that, in spite of all its good will, many of these faults may escape it, either through inadvertence or through frailty, it desires to intensify its vigilance in order to avoid even these as far as is possible.
This solicitude proceeds from love and not from scruples, a truly loving anxiety, like that which made St. Teresa Margaret continually repeat: “What am I doing now, in this action? Am I loving my God?” (Spirituality of St. Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus–not yet translated), or that which St. Angela of Foligno expressed in these burning words: “See, O Lord, if there is anything in me which is not love!”
If you would have a sure sign of your love of God, test the firmness of your resolution to fly from every least thing which might displease Him. This resolution must be so deeply rooted in your will that not only is it continually present to you—as are the things you really care for—but is also strong enough to withdraw you from every imperfection as soon as you become aware of it. This is absolutely indispensable, because, as St. John of the Cross teaches, “for the soul to come to unite itself perfectly with God through love and will … it must not intentionally and knowingly consent with the will to imperfections, and it must have power and liberty to be able not to consent intentionally” (Ascent of Mt. Carmel I, 11, 3).
“O eternal Word! O my Savior! Thou art the divine Eagle whom I love and who allurest me. Thou who, descending to this land of exile, didst will to suffer and to die, in order to bear away each single soul and plunge it into the very heart of the Blessed Trinity—Love’s eternal home! Thou who, returning to Thy realm of light, dost still remain hidden here in our vale of tears under the semblance of the white Host…. O eternal Eagle, it is Thy wish to nourish me with Thy divine substance, a poor little being who would fall into nothingness if Thy divine glance did not give me life at every moment ….
“Forgive me, O Jesus, if I tell Thee that Thy love reacheth even unto folly, and at the sight of such folly, what wilt Thou but that my heart should leap up to Thee? How could my trust know any bounds?
“I know well that for Thy sake the saints have made themselves foolish—being “eagles” they have done great things. Too little for such mighty deeds, my folly lies in the hope that Thy love wilt accept me as a victim ….
“O my divine Eagle! As long as Thou willest, I shall remain with my gaze fixed upon Thee, for I long to be fascinated by Thy divine eyes, I long to become Love’s prey. I am filled with the hope that one day Thou wilt swoop down upon me, and bearing me away to the source of Love, wilt plunge me at last into its glowing abyss, that I may become forever its happy victim” (Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Story of a Soul, 13).
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Art: St. John of the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656; both PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. St. Teresa Margaret, painted after her 1770 death by Anna Piattoli, meets public domain criteria. Photograph of St. Thérèse: Gravure de “Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus, Histoire d’une âme écrite par elle-même, Lisieux, Office central de Lisieux (Calvados), & Bar-le-Duc, Imprimerie Saint-Paul, 1937, édition 1940”, PD-US, copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.