Lent is certainly a time to rid ourselves of disordered loves--mortal and venial sins: breaches greater or less against the natural moral law and against the laws of the Church. For those starting on the spiritual journey this is the beginning. An important beginning, but a beginning nevertheless. But it is a time also to purify our love of God by focusing on those areas where we might motivated by natural loves only or degrees of supernatural love that could stand purifying.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Lent is a time to learn to love the Lord Jesus, not for what we might avoid by loving him (Hell), nor by what we might gain by loving him (Heaven). Though those are reasonable enough motives, and supernatural at that, they are still stained with love of self.
In its fullness, Lent calls us to go beyond such utilitarian motives to the "useless" motive that is behind all pure love. Jesus, I love You simply and only because of Who You Are.
In his classic work, De Diligendo Deo (On Loving God), St. Bernard of Clairvaux identified four degrees of love of God.
The first degree St. Bernard identifies is when man rightly loves God implicitly in and through nature. This is a wholly natural love. One might say it is a natural image of God's love: imago caritatis Dei. There is no disorder involved in this love. It is a perfect compliance with the natural moral law. Yet it is hardly a Christian ideal. And given our fallen state, without grace it is not likely to be achieved.
Proceeding beyond this lowest of all degrees we begin to encounter degrees of love that are based upon supernatural motive and are therefore inspired by grace. They are therefore potentially salvific. These loves are theological in nature, and participate, in various ways, in the theological virtue of charity.
The second degree of love identified by St. Bernard is where man loves God, but only for his own (man's) good. Avoiding hell. Gaining heaven. In terms of repentance, at best this sort of motive gives us attrition. And just like attrition is a half-sister to contrition--true and perfect sorrow--so is this second degree of love a half-sister to true charity as might be found in the third degree, and particularly the fourth degree, of love identified by St. Bernard.
The third degree of love consists of loving God for the sake of God. This is a pure love, but it is deficient in communion, as it still views reality is consisting of "I" and "Thou." It is a love of one person loving another, but loving in separateness, not in intimate communion.
The fourth and highest degree of love identified by St. Bernard is when one loves himself only in God. This love arises only when there is an intimate communion between a man and God. It is no longer a situation of "I" and "Thou." It is like a marriage, analogous to the conjugal act, and "I" and "Thou" become a "We."
"To reach this state," St. Bernard says, "is to become godlike." Sic affici, deificari est. It is reached in its perfection only in Heaven, when we enjoy the beatific vision, but the near perfect in this world--the saints--approach it to a degree even here.
Jesus, in fact, is the paradigm of this love which unifies, which is "We" and not "I" and "Thou": "All I have is yours," Jesus tells the Father, "and all you have is mine." (John 17:10) There is nothing each keep from each other. The essential core of Jesus' high priestly prayer in the Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John is that we "may be one" in God, like Jesus and the Father are one.
Lent is certainly a time to rid ourselves of disordered loves--mortal and venial sins: breaches greater or less against the natural moral law or the law of the Church. For those starting on the spiritual journey this is the beginning. An important beginning, but a beginning nevertheless.
But it is a time also to purify our love of God by focusing on those areas where we might motivated by natural loves or degrees of love that could stand purifying. This, in fact, is the very purpose behind the traditional disciplines of Lent: alms-giving, fasting, and abstinence.
When we give alms, or fast, or abstain from meat flesh, or adopt some other lenten practice we are not getting rid of sinful things, but we are voluntarily sacrificing natural goods we naturally love for motives that are supernatural. We are giving these things up to develop the second, third, and fourth degrees of love of God.
Lent, therefore starts us on our journey of repentance, but it also seeks to purify our love of God so that ideally, with the help of our God's grace, after Lent we are in some manner more pure in our love of God than before Lent.
It is difficult to find a more perfect example of pure love of God than the Spanish love poem--a sonnet--to Jesus Crucified, Jesús Crucificado. Often, it is wrongly attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis Xavier, or even St. Ignatius of Loyola or Pedro de los Reyes, but it appears to have been an anonymous poem. It bears the sure signs of 16th century Spanish piety, with its typical and healthy emphasis on the humanity of Our Lord, though never forgetting his divinity.
In his reflections entitled More Paradoxes, Henri De Lubac calls this poem a "poetic masterpiece," one "that is the most magnificent expression of pure love." It is quite similar to, though not exactly like, the lovely Latin prayer O Deus, ego amo te, Oh God I Love you, attributed to St. Francis Xavier and translated by such literary giants such as his fellow Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, or the poets Alexander Pope, or John Dryden.
The poem is a good meditation for Lent. It is impossible to translate it well into English, and so I provide the original Spanish with a more-or-less faithful and literal translation.
No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte
el cielo que me tienes prometido,
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.
I am not moved, my God, to love you
By the heaven which you've promised
Nor am I moved by the Hell I fear
And for that reason not to offend you.
ˇTú me mueves, Seńor!
Muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido;
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido;
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.
You move me Lord!
It moves me to see you
Humiliated and nailed to a cross;
It moves me to see your body wounded so;
It moves me to behold your suffering and death.
Muévenme en fin, tu amor,
y en tal manera
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.
Ultimately, I am moved by your love
And in such a manner that
Even if there were not heaven, I would love you,
And even if there were not hell, I would fear you.
No me tienes que dar porque te quiera,
pues aunque lo que espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.
You need give me nothing for me to love you,
For even if I had no hope for things hoped for
I would love you the same as I love you.
During Lent, that's the kind of love of God we should strive for, pray for by Good Friday. ˇTú y solo tu me mueves, Seńor! You, Lord, and you alone, move me to love you!
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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