Sixth Conference on the Most Sacred Heart
Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer
We have now seen that the divine uncreated love of the Sacred Heart as manifested in the creation of man dates from all eternity, and that it proceeds from God and embraces, as it were, the whole substance of the Divine Being. Again that overwhelming love is displayed in the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is ever the same eternal and total love we have already considered; it is simple, it is pure, it is immutable as God Himself. Yet we poor creatures, who do not see God, and who study His perfections successively in His works, perceive new qualities in that divine love for man when we look at it, not only through the mystery of Creation, but also through that of the Incarnation. Each of these sublime mysteries demonstrates God's love for His creatures. Creation reveals it as eternal and total, while the Incarnation manifests it as a generous and humble love. We will study, then, the generosity and humility of the divine love of the Sacred Heart for man.
Generosity is something more than kindness, tenderness or beneficence. A kind person will assist one in distress and will be careful not to wound the feelings of another. A beneficent, bountiful person will provide for the comfort and happiness of others and will dispense his favors abundantly. But a generous person will do not only all this, he will not only give, though he receive nothing in return: he will dispense favors, though at a great sacrifice to himself; he will, as it were, forget his own rights and disregard his own inclinations if he can bestow comfort upon another; he will not be repelled by the ingratitude and wickedness of those he benefits. In a word, he will sacrifice himself, his claims, his interests, and all that is dearest to him for the sake of those he loves. Such are the traits of one who is not only compassionate, kind, liberal and beneficent, but who is also generous.
Such are the characteristics of God's love as shown in the Incarnation. God is beneficent as our Creator, He continues His beneficence to us by His daily preservation and protection, He is bountiful in providing us daily with so many things over and above our needs, and which are intended only to procure us pleasure and to gladden our hearts; but He was infinitely generous when He so loved the world as to give for its redemption His only-begotten Son.
What need has He of us? What interest has He in loving us? Is He not complete and perfect in Himself? What beauty, what glory, what happiness does He want? Can we add to His bliss and to His unspeakable loveliness? We can receive all from Him, yet we cannot make any return for His bounties. Says St. Hilary most beautifully:
As no light returns to the sun, or heat to the fire, or to a perfume its sweet scent, so the Divine gifts so precious to him who receives them, are without profit to Him who gives them.
But to his native nothingness, and to his incapability of making any requital to God, man has added sin, and not one sin, but vast oceans and floods of sins - sin so cruel, so heinous, so terrible, that the mere sight of it cast the Son of God prostrate upon the ground in the garden of Gethsemane, and caused Him to sweat blood from sheer agony. And God knew it from all eternity. He saw these oceans of sin rising one upon another, He saw each and every sin in all its naked, revolting deformity, with all its hideous and shocking circumstances. It required all the strength of His infinite intelligence to comprehend the malice of these innumerable sins, yet still His love had to be satisfied. Love, as it were, silenced His justice, it quickened His wisdom, it strained His mercy. We might say, man's sin made Him, in a measure, love man more; for He decreed to become man Himself to redeem man. Yet he knew well that, even after the redemption, man would go on sinning, that few would try to be saved, that fewer still would become saints, and that for those He would make saints, He would have to suffer more grievously than for all the rest. But He shrank not, for love makes one insensible to wrong, for love must be satisfied at every cost. He determined to save His creatures by giving up His only-begotten Son.
Who can understand such love? It is so generous that it overwhelms us. If we had not God's word for it, we could never believe it. Father Faber well says:
More men are puzzled and tempted by the love of God than by any other article of faith.
We may indeed exclaim with Job:
My God, what is man that Thou shouldst magnify him? Why dost Thou set Thy Heart upon him?
To resume: God gives to man without the possibility of receiving any return. And when man is no longer man, when he is become like to senseless beasts, and, from being a child of love, makes himself a child of wrath, even then God loves him, and, to satisfy His own infinite justice, He becomes man, He suffers and, by His sufferings, pays rigorously for all He gives us. Finally, He immolates Himself to save His creature. Is not all this indeed generous?
Secondly, God's love for man, as manifested in the mystery of the Incarnation, is humble. Generally humility is defined as a virtue which prompts us to acknowledge our baseness and accept the place which belongs to us. Since in God there are all rights and no defects, He cannot, in this sense, be humble. There can be no presumption, no excess, no insincerity, no baseness in God; consequently, there cannot be in Him what is ordinarily called humility. But if we regard humility under another respect, namely, as a willingness to be lowered, and as an inclination for abasement, because of the blessed effects of such abasement, then we must say that, without exception, God is the one who abases Himself the most consummately and the most willingly, and on this ground God is more humble than any creature ever can be or ever will be.
It was love for God to create man, but it was a humble love, for it was a condescension, an inclination towards nothing, and therefore an abasement. Especially in decreeing the Incarnation did this humility become apparent. Undoubtedly again it was love that prompted it, but a love which, as St. Bernard says, makes majesty give way; a love which is humble, and therefore, it is indeed humility, and profound humility. Tu non abhorruisti Virginis uterum. "Thou hast not abhorred the Virgin's womb." That womb was all holy and pure, unstained by sin, but for God to descend into it was like descending into an abyss of infinite depth. Think of the pure God putting on a human form and, consequently, assuming an animal nature, not for a day, not only for thirty-three years, but for endless ages : think of His decreeing from all eternity that in time He would unite to Himself personally a material nature, and consequently, in that nature be forever after beneath His own millions and millions of angels. And this is not yet all. Think of His decreeing, from all eternity, that He Himself would take upon Himself the sins of mankind, that He would be their victim and their ransom, that He would be the despised and the most abject of men, as it were, a worm trodden under foot. If we think of all this, and consider that God, as God, from all eternity conceived and willed and in time, as man, accomplished all these things, must we not say that of all beings He is the one who abases Himself most consummately and most willingly, and is therefore most humble? And that humility, that willingness to be abased sprang from love.
For, what is love? It is something more than mere complacency and affection. St. Francis de Sales explains its nature in his beautiful treatise on the love of God. He says that complacency is a sort of satisfaction which the heart experiences at the view of goodness, that affection is a tender sentiment which dwells with pleasure upon an object, but that love is a movement forward, an effusion and an impulse of the heart towards the object of its predilection. Love, therefore, of its own nature tends to union, it breaks down all barriers, it bends towards the object loved, "it unites, collects, assembles and compresses all things, reducing them to unity." God's love for man sought, therefore, union with man, and by means of this union, it sought to communicate itself to man.
Now, there is no connection known to us which could be formed with man so close and intimate as this alliance of God with man in becoming man Himself. And to this unparalleled union, God's love impelled Him. It was an awe-inspiring humiliation, as we have just seen: but God loved us and He became incarnate; His Incarnation proves therefore, that He loves us with a love which is humble even to the lowest degree of self-abasement.
We have now seen God's love, all generous and humble, in the mystery of the Incarnation. "I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also." We should imitate this generous and humble love of the Sacred Heart. We should be generous with God, by the practice of self-forgetfulness, self-sacrifice, self-abandonment; we should be humble by loving a hidden life, by being silent when blamed, by avoiding praise and seeking what is lowly in the estimation of the world. Love will make all things easy.
O Lord! Make me love Thee, then do with me what Thou wilt! O, would that I could die for love of Thee, who hast deigned to die for love of me!