O supreme and ineffable greatness of Thy charity towards men, my Lord! O wondrous fire of love! It is a marvellous thing that our hearts do not break with such great beneficence. For what else remained, O my Lord, after we had sinned but that Thou shouldst immediately cast us into hell like the angels who had displeased Thee? and if Thou, Lord, hadst chosen. Thou couldst easily have created another being much more noble who would have served Thee night and day. What kind of love was that which, when Thou wert insulted by our fall, prompted Thee to come and seek us with such solicitude? and after our sin didst desire to exalt us still more than before? Whence was this, when our sin was only deserving of great punishment? It all proceeded from the pure fire of love. That which most strongly moves my heart to love Thee is the profound consideration of the love that Thou hast shown to us. It is much more the fact of being loved than any benefits received which moves our love; for he who confers a benefit upon another person gives him some portion of what he possesses; but he who loves gives himself with what he has, so that there is nothing else left to give. Now then, O Lord, we may see whether Thou lovest us, and how great is the love that Thou bearest to us. Fathers greatly love their sons. Peradventure Thou lovest us as a Father? We have not entered into the intimate recesses of Thy heart to know this; but Thy only-begotten Son Who came down from Thy bosom, He brought us tidings thereof and commanded us to call Thee Father[Matt. vi. 9; Luke xi. 2.] for the greatness of the love which Thou bearest to us; and above all, told us that we should not call any other being Father upon earth,[Matt. xxiii. 9.] because Thou alone art our Father; for as Thou alone art good by reason of the pre-eminence of Thy sovereign Goodness, so Thou alone art our Father, and Thou art so in such a manner and Thou doest such deeds to us that in comparison with Thy Fatherly affection no one else can be called father. Thy prophet was well aware of this when he said, "My father and my mother have forsaken and forgotten me, but the Lord hath taken charge of me".[Ps. xxvi. 10 (paraphrased).] Thou Thyself hast sought to compare Thyself with earthly parents, saying by the mouth of Isaias, "Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee in My hands: thy walls are always before My eyes."[Isa. xlix. 15-16.] And because amongst the birds the eagle is most celebrated for loving its young ones, Thou, O Lord, choosest to compare with its love the greatness of Thine own love, saying, "As the eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them, He spread His wings and hath taken him and carried him on His shoulders, the Lord alone was his leader, and there was no strange god with him".[Deut. xxxii. 11-12.] Beyond this love of the bird is that of the bridegroom for the bride, of which it is said, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh".[Matt. xix. 5.] Thy love far surpasses this love, for, as Thou sayest by Jeremias, "If a man put away his wife, and she go from him and marry another man, shall he return to her[note 1] any more?" But thou hast committed adultery with as many lovers as thou hast chosen; yet withal return to Me, saith the Lord, and I will receive thee; and if, notwithstanding thou art still incredulous respecting such love, behold all the benefits which I have bestowed on thee, for all these are proofs and testimonies of love. Cast up the account of all these and see how numerous they are, and thou wilt find that as many creatures as there are in heaven and earth, as many bones as thou hast in thy whole body, and as many hours and moments of life as thou hast, all these are benefits bestowed by the Lord; and mark also how many good inspirations thou hast received from the hand of thy God, and how many blessings thou hast enjoyed in this life, from how many sins has He delivered thee, and into how many infirmities and disasters thou mightest have fallen if He had not rescued thee; and that all these things are examples and tokens of love. Even the very calamities and tribulations which He sends upon thee are indications of love, for they are tokens sent from the heart of that Father "Who scourgeth every son whom He receiveth,[Heb. xii. 6.] in order to correct him, to awaken, to purify and to preserve him in all that is good. When threatening Thy chosen people Israel if they did not keep Thy commandments, Thou saidst by Thy prophet, "If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgements, if they profane My justices, and keep not My commandments, I will visit their iniquities with a rod and their sins with stripes".[Ps. lxxxviii. 31-33.] Then to show that this chastisement was that of a loving Father, and that Thou wast not forgetful of Thy accustomed mercy. Thou didst add, "But My mercy I will not take away from him, nor suffer My truth to fail". And when, as a Father, Thou didst chasten Adam, casting him out of a Paradise of joy, Thou didst provide him with clothing wherewith he should be protected from the heat of the summer and be sheltered from the cold of winter. O most clement and pitiful Lord, even in the troubles which Thou layest upon us, and even when Thou scourgest us. Thou dost display the great love that Thou hast for us! Then if I fix my eyes on this world, I see that it was all made for me, and solely for love of me, and that all things contained in it preach to me of love and denote love. And if thou, my soul, art deaf to all these things, that is no reason why thou shouldst be equally obtuse to the words which the Saviour speaks to thee in the Gospel, "God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life".[John iii. 16.] All these things are tokens of love, and this still more so than all the rest, as the Evangelist S. John, who was so beloved by God and such a lover of Him, declares, saying, "By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we may live by Him";[John iv. 9.] and this blessing, together with the rest, are tokens of the love which God feels for us, and are like sparks that spring forth from that infinite and burning fire of love. How much greater, dost thou think, must be the hidden fire itself, since the very sparks that issue from it are so great? O infinite love! love profound and gracious, worthy of being requited with love. Grant us, O Lord, to feel with all the saints the height and depth, the breadth and length of this love, that our heart may be through its whole substance wounded and conquered by such great love.

1. "To him," LXX.; "to her," Heb., Vulg. and Cipr. de Valera. Jer. iii. 1. [back]