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God's Love in Giving Us His Son

by St. Alphonsus de Liguori

God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.1 God, says Jesus Christ, has loved the world to that degree that He has given it His own and only Son. In this gift there are three things demanding our consideration: Who is the giver, what is the thing given, and the greatness of the love wherewith He gives it? We are already aware that the more exalted the donor is, the more to be prized is the gift. One who receives a flower from a monarch will set a higher value on that flower than on a large amount of money. How much ought we not, then, to prize this gift, coming to us, as it does, from the hands of one who is God! And what is it that He has given us? His own Son. The love of this God did not content itself with having given us so many good things on this earth, until it had reached the point of giving us His whole self in the person of the Incarnate Word: "He gave us not a servant, not an Angel, but His own Son,"2 says St. John Chrysostom. Wherefore Holy Church exultingly exclaims, "O wondrous condescension of Thy mercy in our regard! O unappreciable love of charity! That Thou mightest redeem a slave, Thou deliverest up Thy Son."3

O infinite God, how couldst Thou condescend to exercise towards us so wondrous a compassion! Who shall ever be able to understand an excess so great as that, in order to ransom the slave, Thou were willing to give us Thine only Son? Ah, my kindest Lord, since Thou hast given me the best that Thou hast, it is but just that I should give Thee the most that I can. Thou desirest of me my love: of Thee I desire nothing else, but only Thy love. Behold this miserable heart of mine; I consecrate it wholly to Thy love. Depart from my heart, all ye creatures; give room to my God, who deserves and desires to possess it wholly, and without companions. I love Thee, O God of love; I love Thee above everything: and I desire to love Thee alone, my Creator, my treasure, my all.

II.

God hath given us His Son; and why? For love alone. Pilate, for fear of men, gave Jesus up to the Jews: He delivered Him up to their will.4 But the Eternal Father gave His Son to us for the love which He bore us: He delivered Him up for us all.5 St. Thomas says that "love has the nature of a first gift."6 When a present is made us, the first gift that we receive is that of the love which the donor offers us in the thing that he gives: because, observes the Angelic Doctor, the one and only reason of every voluntary gift is love; otherwise, when a gift is made for some other end than that of simple affection, the gift can no longer rightly be called a true gift. The gift which the Eternal Father made us of His Son was a true gift, perfectly voluntary, and without any merit of ours; and therefore it is said that the Incarnation of the Word was effected through the operation of the Holy Spirit: that is, through love alone; as the same holy Doctor says: "through God's supreme love it was brought to pass, that the Son of God assumed to Himself flesh."7

But not only was it out of pure love that God gave unto us His Son, He also gave Him to us with an immensity of love. This is precisely what Jesus wished to signify when He said: God so loved the world.8 The word "so" (says St. John Chrysostom) signifies the magnitude of the love wherewith God made us this great gift: "The word 'so' signifies the vehemence of the love."9 And what greater love could one who was God have been able to give us than was shown by His condemning to death His innocent Son in order to save us miserable sinners? Who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.10 Had the Eternal Father been capable of suffering pain, what pain would He not have then experienced, when He saw Himself compelled by His justice to condemn that Son, whom He loved with the same love wherewith He loved Himself, to die by so cruel a death in the midst of so many ignominies? And the Lord willed to bruise Him in infirmity.11 He willed to make Him die consumed by torments and sufferings.

Imagine thyself, then, to behold the Eternal Father, with Jesus dead in His arms, and saying to us: This, O men, is My beloved Son, in Whom I have found all My delights: This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.12 Behold how I have willed to see Him ill-treated on account of your iniquities: For the wickedness of My people have I smitten Him.13 Behold how I have condemned Him to die upon this cross, afflicted, and abandoned even by Myself, Who love Him so much. This have I done in order that you may love Me.

O infinite goodness! O infinite mercy! O infinite love! O God of my soul! since Thou didst will that the object most dear to Thy heart should die for me, I offer to Thee in my own behalf that great sacrifice of Himself which this Thy Son made Thee; and for the sake of His merits I pray Thee to give me the pardon of my sins, Thy love, and Thy paradise. Great as are these graces which I ask of Thee, the offering which I present unto Thee is greater still. For the love of Jesus Christ, O my Father, pardon me and save me. If I have offended Thee in time past, I repent of it above every evil. I now prize Thee, and love Thee, above every good.

III.

Ah, who but a God of infinite love could ever have loved us to such a degree? St. Paul writes: But God, Who is rich in mercy, on account of the too great love wherewith He loved us when we were dead in sins, quickened us together in Christ.14 The Apostle calls too great this love which God showed us in giving to men, by means of the death of His Son, the life of grace which they had lost by their sins. But to God, Who is love itself, this love was not too great: God is love.15 St. John says that herein He wished to make us see the extent to which the greatness of the love of a God towards us reached, in sending His own Son into the world to obtain for us, by His death, forgiveness and life eternal: By this hath appeared the charity of God in us, because God hath sent His own only-begotten Son into the world, that we might have life through Him.16

By sin, we were dead to the life of grace; and Jesus, by His death, has brought us back to life. We were miserable, deformed objects of abomination; but God, by means of Jesus Christ, has rendered us pleasing and precious in His divine sight. He hath made us (wrote the apostle) acceptable through His beloved Son.17 He hath made us acceptable, i.e., "He hath made us pleasing," says the Greek text. And therefore St. John Chrysostom adds that were there to be a poor leper all covered with wounds and disfigurements, and any one were to heal his body of the leprosy, and make him beautiful and rich besides, how great would be the sense of obligation that he would retain towards this his benefactor! How much more, then, are we now beholden to God, since, when our souls were disfigured and hateful on account of our sins, He hath, by means of Jesus Christ, not only delivered us from our sins, but has made them beautiful and lovely besides: He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.18 Cornelius р Lapide comments upon this: "He hath bestowed upon us every spiritual gift."19 God's blessing involves benefaction. The Eternal Father, then, in giving us Jesus Christ, hath loaded us with all gifts, not indeed earthly ones in the body, but spiritual ones in the soul: In heavenly places;20 giving us, together with His Son, a heavenly life in this world, and a heavenly glory in the other.

Give me, then, Thy blessings and Thy benefactions, O my most loving God, and may the benediction draw me wholly to Thy love: "Draw me by the chains of Thy love."21 Let the love which Thou hast borne me make me enamored of Thy goodness. Thou dost deserve an infinite love; I love Thee with all the love I can command; I love Thee above everything; I love Thee more than myself. I give Thee my whole will; and this is the grace that I ask of Thee: make me from this day forth to live and do everything according to Thy divine will, wherewith Thou desirest nothing but my good, and my eternal salvation.

IV.

The King hath brought me into the cellar of wine; He hath set in order charity in me.22 My Lord, said the holy spouse, hath taken me into the cellar of wine: that is to say, hath placed before mine eyes all the benefits that He hath done me in order that I may be induced to love Him: He hath set in order charity in me. A certain writer says that God, in order to gain our love, has, so to say, despatched against us an army of the graces of love. "He drew up charity against me like an armed host."23 But, says Cardinal Hugo, the gift of Jesus Christ to us was the reserved arrow of which Isaias prophesied: He hath made me as a chosen arrow: in His quiver He hath hidden me.24 As the hunter, says Hugo, keeps the best arrow in reserve to give the finishing stroke to his game, so did God, amongst all His other benefits, keep Jesus in reserve, until the time of grace had arrived, and then He sent Him forth, as if to give the finishing stroke of love to the hearts of men: "The chosen arrow is kept in reserve: so was Christ kept in reserve in the bosom of the Father, until the fullness of time should come; and then He was sent forth to wound the hearts of the faithful."25 St. Peter, wounded by this arrow, says St. John Chrysostom,26 said to his Master: "Lord, Thou knowest well that I love Thee: Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee."27

Ah, my God, I behold myself surrounded on all sides with the artifices of Thy love. I do, likewise, love Thee; and if I love Thee, I know that Thou too dost love me. And what power shall ever deprive me of Thy love? Sin only. But from this infernal monster it is for Thee, through Thy mercy, to deliver me. I am content to suffer every evil, the most cruel death, or even to be torn to pieces, sooner than offend Thee by mortal sin. But Thou already knowest my past falls; Thou knowest my weakness; help me, O my God, for love of Jesus Christ; Despise not Thou the work of Thine hands,28 I am the workmanship of Thy hands; Thou has created me; despise me not. If I merit to be left to myself by reason of my sins, I merit nevertheless that Thou be merciful towards me for love of Jesus Christ, who hath sacrificed His life to Thee for my salvation. I offer up to Thee His merits, which are all mine; and, through them, I ask of Thee, and hope for, from Thee, the gift of holy perseverance, together with a good death; and meanwhile to live the remainder of my life entirely to Thy glory. Long enough have I offended Thee! I now repent of it with all my heart, and I wish to love Thee to the uttermost of my power. I desire no longer to offer resistance to Thy love: I surrender myself wholly unto Thee. Give me Thy grace, and Thy love, and then do with me what Thou wilt. I love Thee, O my God, and I wish, and I ask of Thee, to love Thee always. Oh, for the merits of Jesus Christ, hearken unto my prayer. Mary, my Mother, pray to God for me. Amen. So may it be.

Footnotes:

  1. "Sic Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum daret." (John, 3:16)


  2. "Non servum, non Angelum, sed Filium suum donavit." (In Jo. hom. 26)


  3. "O mira circa nos tuæ pietatis dignatio! o inæstimabilis dilectio charitatis! ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti."


  4. "Tradidit voluntati eorum." (Luke, 23:25)


  5. "Pro nobis omnibus tradidit illum." (Rom. 8:32)


  6. "Amor habet rationem primi doni." (P. I, q. 38, a. 2)


  7. "Ex maximo Dei amore provenit, ut Filius Dei carnem sibi assumeret." (P. 3, q. 32, a. I)


  8. "Sic Deus dilexit mundum." (John, 3:16)


  9. "Verbum 'Sic' significat amoris vehementiam." (In Jo. hom. 26)


  10. "Qui etiam proprio Filio suo non pepercit, sed pro nobis omnibus tradidit illum." (Rom. 8:32)


  11. "Et Dominus voluit conterere eum in infirmitate." (Isa. 53:10)


  12. "Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui." (Matt. 3:17)


  13. "Propter scelus populi mei percussi eum." (Isa. 53:8)


  14. "Deus autem, qui dives est in misericordia, propter nimiam charitatem suam qua dilexit nos, et cum essemus mortui peccatis, convivificavit nos in Christo." (Ephes. 2:4)


  15. "Deus charitas est." (1 John, 4:16)


  16. "In hoc apparuit charitas Dei in nobis, quoniam Filium suum unigenitum misit Deus in mundum: ut vivamus per eum." (1 John, 4:9)


  17. "Gratificavit nos in dilecto Filio suo." (Ephes. 1:6)


  18. "Benedixit nos in omni benedictione spirituali in coelestibus in Christo." (Ibid. 3)


  19. "Beneficit nobis omni dono spirituali."


  20. "In coelestibus in Christo."


  21. "Trahe me vinculis amoris tui."


  22. "Introduxit me in cellam vinariam, ordinavit in me charitatem." (Cant. 2:4)


  23. "Instruxit contra me charitatem tamquam exercitum." (G. Sanch. ap. Corn. р Lap.)


  24. "Posuit me sicut sagittam electam, in pharetra sua abscondit (Isa. 49:2)


  25. "Sagitta electa reservatur; ita Christus quasi reservatus est in sinu Patris, donec venit plentudo temporis, et tunc missus est ad vulnerandum corda fidelium."


  26. Hom. de Turt.


  27. "Domine! tu scis quia amo te." (John, 21:15)


  28. "Opera manuum tuarum ne despicias." (Ps. 137:8)