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You Shall Love The Lord Your God With All Your Heart

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In the Spanish Cathedral of Seville hangs a painting depicting the procession that King David summoned for the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant as recorded in the Second Book of Samuel. Dating from around 1700, Francesco Solimena’s The Transfer of the Ark of the Covenant is remarkable in many respects, with details such as a four-poled canopy borne over the Ark and two swinging thuribles unmistakably denoting David’s ceremony as a prefiguation of the Eucharistic processions that the Church would celebrate many centuries later.
But what is likewise striking about this image is the face of David, enraptured as he gazes upon the Ark, the ultimate Old Testament symbol of God’s presence in the midst of the children of Israel. Of David could well be said what our Lord said of the penitent woman, believed to be St. Mary Magdalene, who had bathed the feet of Christ with the tears of her remorse: “. . . her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).
God forgave David’s horrible sin against Uriah because David loved God with an ardor that has scarcely any parallel in the pages of the Old Testament. His tears fashioned the words of the Miserere, the fifty-first psalm, his act of contrition, as the preamble to the psalm records: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba” (Psalm 51:1; see 2 Samuel 12:1-15).
What was first proclaimed in the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:5) our Lord has forever enshrined as the greatest of all the commandments: “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
It is the use of the word “all” that gives this commandment its incredible thrust, the power to move mountains as it were by the responses it has elicited in the lives of the saints. As Fr. Bernard Vaughan, SJ, observed, “When Christ is the magnet of the heart, there is life, energy, enterprise, active morality, and self-forgetfulness” (Loaves and Fishes: Extracts from Father Bernard Vaughan’s Notebooks, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1932, p. 37).
In a reflection upon the love we owe to God, St. Thomas More (1478-1535) writes:
“Thou that hast thy love set unto God, in thy remembrance this imprint and engrave: as He in sovereign dignity is odd [i.e., singular], so will He in love no parting fellows have; love Him therefore with all that He thee gave, for body, soul, wit, cunning, mind and thought, part will He [have] none, but either all or naught” (Life of John Picus, in The Workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght, London, 1557, p. 28).
In his work, Meditations on the Love of God, Fr. Nicholas Grou, SJ, explains that loving God with one’s whole heart is the only real way to love Him: “Can God be loved otherwise than with our whole heart? Is it too much for a finite heart to love Infinite Beauty?” (Meditations on the Love of God, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1928, p. 33).
When we turn back to the original presentation of this commandment in the Book of Deuteronomy, we find it prescribed with a unique vehemence — as an all-consuming way of life, this is to govern all the moments of the day: “…these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).
The love of God has often been likened to a fire in the heart. Nothing is more potent in kindling this fire than the Passion of Christ. For as Fr. Paul de Jaegher observes, “In this marvelous and triumphant manifestation of his incomparable love Jesus is infinitely lovely, infinitely adorable” (Fr. Paul de Jaegher, SJ, The Virtue of Trust: Meditations, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1932, p. 45).
In his spiritual classic, the Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales speaks of how Christ seeks to win our hearts with His sacred Passion, citing for this the following verse from the Song of Songs, “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night” (Song 5:2). Describing Christ in His Passion as “a fire of love burning in a thorny bush of sorrow,” St. Francis explains:
“What is this dew, and what are the drops of the night but the afflictions and pains of his passion?. . . this divine lover of the soul would say, I am laden with the pains and sweats of my passion, almost all of which passed either in the darkness of the night, or in the night of the darkness which the obscured sun made in the very brightness of its noon. Open then thy heart towards me . . . and I will shed upon thee the dew of my passion, which will be changed into pearls of consolation” (Treatise on the Love of God, London and New York, ca. 1884; rpt. Rockford, IL, TAN Books, 1997, p. 212).
Similarly, Fr. Vaughan says of the Lord’s Passion, “He knew that in order to win our hearts he must be prepared to be done to death….He knew that when he should be lifted up, then he would begin to act as a magnet on the human heart” (Loaves and Fishes, p. 2).
It is in the Holy Eucharist that we shall find the supreme nourishment for loving God with all our hearts. For Christ’s supreme act of love for us on Calvary is made present to us in our own lives most especially in the Mass:
“This divine and everlasting love was in Jesus as He shed His Blood all the day long on Good Friday; there was love divine in every drop that fell to the ground. And the Mass is the memorial of this eternal love” (Fr. John Kearney, CSSp, The Meaning of the Mass, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1936, p. 34).
Elizabeth Leseur describes the Mass as “the mystery of love…on which souls will live as long as the world exists” (The Spiritual Life: A Series of Short Treatises on the Inner Life, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1922, p. 86).
In the course of the Mass, apart from Holy Communion, there is perhaps no greater moment of Christ inviting us, begging us, to love Him than when the priest elevates first the Host, and then the chalice, at the consecration. It is truly the moment when Christ draws all men to Himself. The following words of Fr. de Jaegher concerning the Mass as a whole can aptly be applied to the consecration:
“As from Calvary so from the altar, day by day he repeats to me: ‘Behold, O beloved soul, how I desire your heart….Give me your love; give me your trust, your utter and boundless trust!” (The Virtue of Trust, pp. 51-52).
Of course it is in Holy Communion that we experience our deepest and most intimate encounter with Christ in this life:
“The soul permeated by Jesus [in Holy Communion] becomes as it were fruitful soil germinating both flowers and fruits. It conceives wondrous thoughts, makes burning acts of love….His love and ours, His thoughts and ours intermingle: like two grains of incense burnt together in the same thurible, they exhale one perfume towards heaven” (Fr. M.V. Bernadot, OP, From Holy Communion to the Blessed Trinity, London, Sands and Co., 1931, pp. 16-17).
As Mother Mary Loyola, IBVM, observes, “They were made for each other, His Heart and mine” (Mother Mary Loyola, IBVM, Welcome! Holy Communion: Before and After, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1936, p. 345).
Likewise vital to loving God with all one’s heart is Eucharistic adoration, spending time with our Lord, quietly conversing with Him, offering ourselves to Him as He offers Himself to us: “Without ceasing Jesus watches me from the depths of the Tabernacle, with a look that penetrates to my inmost being. . . . From His tabernacle He pours forth floods of tenderness, enveloping me with love” (Bernadot, From Holy Communion to the Blessed Trinity, p. 36).

Choked By Thorns

Apart from attachment to sin, there is perhaps no greater obstacle to the love of God than the tendency in our fallen state to love creatures more than God. It is of this that our Lord speaks when in the parable of the scattered seeds He tells of the sprouts that are choked by thorns (Matt. 13:7, 22).
One key way to put our inordinate affections in order is to recall and impress upon our minds where all the goodness of creatures comes from — that everything good about the loved ones and friends whom God has placed in our lives, everything good about the material possessions He has bestowed upon us, comes from Him, and that there is not one molecule of our existence that has any origin apart from Him.
As Fr. Grou points out, “But has God lost the right to occupy all my mind, because he has made other creatures which are so many free blessings of his to me, which serve as so many steps to raise my mind to him, which speak to me of his Power, his Wisdom and his other attributes, in which I can and ought to contemplate him with the utmost delight?” (Meditations on the Love of God, p. 38).
The love of God is thankfully contagious. A soul consumed by this love kindles others as well, as St. Therese explains: “O Jesus . . . when a soul has allowed herself to be taken captive by the inebriating fragrance of Thy perfumes, she could not run alone; all the souls whom she loves are drawn after her” (quoted in The Spirit of Saint Therese de l’Enfant-Jesus, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1925, pp. 164-165).
Finding ourselves at present in a time of seemingly unparalleled darkness, with great dangers besetting the Church, we all need to respond by loving God more. For by truly loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, humility vanquishes pride, purity vanquishes impurity, truth vanquishes falsehood, and Heaven vanquishes Hell.
As Fr. Raoul Plus, SJ, once said, “. . . the world is saved by those who are on their knees” (Fr. Raoul Plus, SJ, Christ in His Brethren, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1927, p. 145).

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