Malankara World

The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

By Jean Pierre Camus


ST. FRANCIS DE SALES UPON THE LOVE OF GOD, CALLED LOVE OF BENEVOLENCE

You ask me what I have to say as regards the love of benevolence towards God. What good thing can we possibly wish for God which He has not already, What can we desire for Him which He does not possess far more fully than we can desire Him to have it?

What good can we do to Him to Whom all our goods belong, and Who has all good in Himself; or, rather, Who is Himself all good?

I reply to this question as I have done to others, that there are many spiritual persons, and some even of the most gifted, who are greatly mistaken in their view of this matter.

We must distinguish in God two sorts of good, the one interior, the other exterior. The first is Himself; for His goodness, like His other attributes, is one and the same thing with His essence or being.

Now this good, being infinite, can neither be augmented by our serving God and by our honoring Him, nor can it be diminished by our rebelling against Him and by our working against Him.

It is of it that the Psalmist speaks when he says that our goods are nothing unto Him.

But there is another kind of good which is exterior; and this, though it belongs to God, is not in Him, but in His creatures, just as the moneys of the king are, indeed, his, but they are in the coffers of his treasurers and officials.

This exterior good consists in the honors, obedience, service, and homage which His creatures owe and render to Him: creatures of whom each one has of necessity His glory as the final end and aim of its creation. And this good it is which we can, with the grace of God, desire for Him, and ourselves give to Him, and which we can either by our good works increase or by our sins take from.

In regard to this exterior good, we can practice towards God the love of benevolence by doing all things, and all good works in our power, in order to increase His honour, or by having the intention to bless, glorify, and exalt Him in all our actions; and much more by refraining from any action which might tarnish God's glory and displease Him, Whose will is our inviolable law.

The love of benevolence towards God does not stop here. For, because charity obliges us to love our neighbor as ourselves from love of God, we try to urge on our fellow-men to promote this Divine glory, each one as far as he can. We incite them to do all sorts of good, so as thereby to magnify God the more. Thus the Psalmist said to his brethren, O magnify the Lord with me, and let us extol His name together.[1]

This same ardour incites and presses us also (urget is the word used by St. Paul) to do our utmost to aid our neighbor to rise from sin, which renders him displeasing to God, and to prevent sin by which the Divine Goodness is offended. This is what is properly called zeal, the zeal which consumed the Psalmist when he saw how the wicked forget God, and which caused him to cry out: My zeal has made me pine away, because my enemies forgot thy words. [2] And again, The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up. [3]

You ask if this love of benevolence might not also be exercised towards God in respect of that interior and infinite good which He possesses and which is Himself. I reply, with our Blessed Father in his Theotimus, that we can wish Him to have this good, by rejoicing in the fact that He has it, and that He is what He is; hence that vehement outburst of David, Know ye, that the Lord he is God.[4] And again, A great King above all gods.

Moreover, the mystical elevations and the ecstasies of the Saints were acts of the love of God in which they wished Him all good and rejoiced in His possessing it. Our imagination, too, may help us, as it did St. Augustine, of whom our Blessed Father writes:

"This desire, then, of God, by imagination of impossibilities, may be sometimes profitably practiced in moments of great and extraordinary feelings and fervors. We are told that the great St. Augustine often made such acts, pouring out in an excess of love these words: 'Ah! Lord, I am Augustine, and Thou art God; but still, if that which neither is nor can be were, that I were God, and thou Augustine, I would, changing my condition with Thee, become Augustine to the end that Thou mightest be God.'"[5]

We can again wish Him the same good by rejoicing in the knowledge that we could never, even by desiring it, add anything to the incomprehensible infinity and infinite incomprehensibility of His greatness and perfection. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Praise to God in the highest. Amen.

[Footnote 1: Psalm xxxiii. 4.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm cxviii. 139.]
[Footnote 3: Psalm lxviii. 10.]
[Footnote 4: Psalm xciv. 3.]
[Footnote 5: Book v. c. 6.]

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