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July 1, 2006

Letter 57

April 14, 1813
Countess Lucrezia Ginnasi

The grace and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ be always with us. Amen.

Esteemed Countess
I begin this letter at a time when the Church directs our attention to a most serious reflection on the august mysteries of our Redemption, Wednesday of Holy Week, (1) and she urges us to make fervent acts of love for Jesus, our total Good. Oh how our loving Mother Church, completely solicitous for us her children, compassionately makes every effort to etch into our souls this great truth which summarizes all the others: that is to say, that all of us belong to Jesus since he gave himself entirely to us! To speak of any other topics during these holy days would be an estrangement from those memories which are most efficacious in awakening in our hearts the most vivid sentiments of holy love, disposing us for the possession of that homeland which alone can make us completely happy.

Therefore, let us enter in spirit the sweetest Heart of Jesus, the burning furnace of love for mankind and, therein, let us briefly remind ourselves of all the aspects of that mystical fire, so that we can offer ourselves with completeness and greater perfection to the exercise of the Christian virtues, living for God alone.Ignem veni mittere in terram, et quid volo, nisi ut accendatur?(2) Prayer: "Sweet Heart of my Jesus, make me love you evermore.

There is no human language nor any sufficient number of volumes that can worthily describe all of the acts of love by which we have been enriched in our crucified Redeemer! Just to repeat one or the other would require the fervor of those fortunate souls who, like the eagle, freely soared upward from all the things of this miserable world to enjoy the delights of the nectar of Paradise. Certainly they, in some way, will be able to convince us of this delightful theme, but then, what can I do, a miserable sinner, whose heart, through my own fault, is colder than a stone and who does not know how to return love to the one who has loved me so much? Oh divine Holy Spirit, please help me so that I can, at least in a small way, give expression to those sentiments which are apt for arousing and moving us (3) to this holy exercise of love.

Oh soul, redeemed by the most precious Blood of Jesus the Redeemer, at this point, lift up your thoughts and realize that this ineffable benefit and august mystery, together with the Incarnation of the Son of God, was a flaming outburst of love: exinanivit semetipsum formam servi acciplens. (4) His submission to so many pains and trials was a flaming outburst of love, finally expiring in a sea of sorrows and on the infamous scaffold of Calvary. It was a flaming outburst of love to leave himself entirely in the Eucharistic banquet. It was a flaming outburst of love for him to find his delight in us miserable creatures: deliciae meae cum filiis hominum, (5)and that burning wish of his for our eternal salvation in the beloved homeland of heaven.

Oh soul, plunge yourself deeply into these moving thoughts and you cannot help but repeat with the Apostle: Caritas Christi urget nos! (6) It is not so much what Jesus suffered as it is the love that he demonstrated in his suffering for us that obliges us and even forces us to love him in return. Let us listen to what St. Francis de Sales says in this regard: "Knowing that Jesus, true God, has loved us to the point of suffering death for us, even death on a cross, is this not the same as having our hearts put under a winepress and feeling its crushing force, squeezing out love with a violence that is as gentle and loving as it is forceful?" Then he adds: "So then why do we not cast ourselves onto Jesus Crucified, to die on the Cross with him who was willing to die out of love for us? We ought to say: I shall cling to him and I shall never abandon him; I will die with him and I shall burn in the flames of his love. One and the same flame will consume this divine Creator and his miserable creature. My Jesus gives all to me and I give my all to him. I shall live and lie on his breast; neither death nor life will ever separate me from him. Oh eternal love, my soul seeks you and chooses you for all eternity. Come, Holy Spirit, inflame our hearts with your love. To love or to die; to die to every other love so as to live in the love of Jesus. Oh Savior of our souls, allow us to chant forever: Hail to Jesus; love Jesus; hail to Jesus whom I love; I love Jesus who lives forever and ever."

This love (says the Ven. John of Avila) is the kind that makes good souls go beyond themselves and leaves them in a state of amazement when they come to realize it. Then, a feeling of interior burning arises, a desire for martyrdom, a happiness in suffering, an enjoyment of those things that the world fears, and an embracing of those things that the world abhors. St. Ambrose says that the soul that is wedded to Jesus Christ on the Cross considers nothing more glorious than to bear in itself the marks of the Crucified. Oh how, my beloved, can I repay you for your love? He is deserving to have a compensation of blood for blood. See, here I am tinted with that blood and nailed to that Cross! Oh holy Cross, receive me unto thyself. Oh crown, loosen thyself so that I can place my head therein. Oh nails, release those innocent hands of my Lord and pierce my heart with compassion and love. ... Oh my most loving Lord, intoxicate our hearts with this wine, burn them with this flame, wound them with the arrows of your love.

Now, as a comfort to one who lives a moderated life it is necessary to be warned about a strong temptation by Lucifer who seeks to represent to us as a very defective thing something that, in reality, is only an effect of that divine love which dwells in the just. Let me explain. From the time that a soul surrenders itself sincerely to divine service and seeks to please its Beloved, it yearns for nothing else than a greater fervor, a greater holiness, a greater perfection. Then, the devil, with respect to this most holy desire which must be regulated in a practical way in keeping with the will of God, finds a way of causing it anguish, assailing it and making it fall (if he can succeed in this) into such a state of dejection that he does not allow it to find a moment of peace, either because of sins committed in the past or because of an excessive fear of falling into new sins, etc., and thus making every effort futile. It is impossible (the tempter of the soul keeps saying as he tries to reduce it to despair) to succeed in an undertaking which would require in you more virtue, more merits, more fervor. It is impossible for you to make progress in doing good, when, by your sins, you have lost the merits of the grace of the Almighty which are needed. In short, it is impossible to be able to fly without wings. Now, if the soul listens to such deceptive images, then the enemy will continue to question it as follows: Tell me, don't you really know how wretched you are, how deficient, how ungrateful before God? ... In your ingratitude, could you really feel worthy of the gentle kindnesses of his ineffable divine love? Therefore, lay aside any such thoughts, for otherwise you will be marked as a presumptuous and proud individual.

Oh how really subtle is that diabolical deception, for it is covered with a mantle of false humility that causes one to attribute to vice something that is happily produced by the love for God. Hence, let us open our eyes and, in order to elude every infernal deceit, let us etch into our hearts the following words of St. John Chrysostom, since they are most opportune in restoring to ourselves calm and tranquility of spirit: "When the love of God has taken possession of a soul, it produces in it an insatiable desire to act in behalf of the Loved One, so much so that, despite the many and the great acts that it performs for a long period of time spent in his service, all seems to be nothing and it always feels hurt that it does so little for God, and that if it were licit for it to die and be destroyed for him, it would be happy to do so. Thus it is that it always looks upon itself as useless in everything that it does because when love points out to it what God deserves, then in that clear light it sees all the defects of its own actions, bringing on confusion and pain from everything it does and recognizes as poor the deeds that it performs for so great a Lord."

St. Justinian says: "When one truly is making progress, he feels in himself a continuous desire to advance further, and as he grows more in perfection, so much more does the desire increase; for as the light in him continues to grow, it always seems to him that he has no virtue at all and that he is doing nothing good at all, and if he were to see himself doing something good, he gives himself no credit. Therefore, the situation is that he is continually working for the acquisition of perfection without ever growing tired". Hence, all the consequences of the love of God pointed out up to now are nothing but the products of that very same love. They never tend to render the soul inactive, but rather by their very nature excite it to greater industry and concern to purify itself before God. So, how truly terrifying is the devil when he seeks every imaginable way to impede the progress toward perfection, blocking one=s total dedication to God. Who is it that cannot recognize the iniquity and the origin of a temptation which tends to arrest the spirit in its chosen course of virtue? "A humility that disquiets one", says St. Teresa, "never comes from God but from the devil". In fact, God does not fail to help us in those trials since he is desirous of our love. Fili, praebe mihi cor tuum, ecce cor meum. (7)

Whatever artifice the devil uses in this regard, the soul must courageously remember what that great servant of God, Fr. Segneri, Sr., used to say to oppose the enemy and to achieve a most glorious victory over him: "There are two ways for clearing out a terrain that has become jungle and covered with heavy growth. One is to take an ax and begin cutting down trunk after trunk. The other is to attack it with fire; and this second way is without comparison, not only because it is easier but because it is more useful in the sense that the terrain is made more fertile by the foliage that is burned down. The same thing occurs in our souls. One can pursue the method of exercising various virtues, uprooting vice after vice, but this method demands great labor, lengthy time and results in little fruit. The real method is to attack the heart with a great fire of love for God and this, in a short time, will accomplish what otherwise would require much effort. Furthermore, it not only purges the soul but wondrously makes it productive". So, whatever may be the condition of the soul, it sees in itself its defects, it considers its status, it realizes how unworthy it is of heavenly favors and notes its ungratefulness towards God. Sorrowfully it applies itself to the exercise of that love that has been commanded to us by the words: Diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex corde. (8) It becomes purified and beautiful in the eyes of the Lord and marvelous prerogatives will continually grow within itself. This is the effective way of angering the devil and removing every obstacle to the working of the grace of Jesus who wants us as his own, because no one can serve him and the world, and because there can never be a union between light and darkness, between fire and water, between Christ and Belial.
Fr. Segneri, Jr. used to say that the love of God is a thief that easily despoils us of everything so that we can possess nothing other than God. St. Francis de Sales said that when a house catches fire, people will throw all the furniture out through the windows; when a person gives himself completely to God, he seeks to rid himself of everything that is earthly. In that way, one comes spiritually to the point of dying to anything that one has in this miserable world, thus verifying in ourselves the words: Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur. (9)

Not everyone is called by God to renounce temporal goods voluntarily or by vow: 'but, all must strive affectively for that end by releasing the heart from those annoying shackles and seeking only the faithful fulfillment of the divine will: Deus cordis mei; et pars mea Deus in aeternum. (10) The one who must dwell in the world must imitate Noah's dove, which pure and candid, unlike the raven, returned to the good Patriarch. Speaking apart from the figure, I mean to say that our souls must not depart from the mystic ark of the sweetest heart of Jesus; but, rather, should always remain there with its affective love as the only place where it can find peace and quiet.

With these holy thoughts, fervent souls are sanctified in that state of life in which the Lord has been pleased to place them and, with holy joy, they surrender themselves to be of help to their neighbors, to be of benefit to others and, in short, to carry out whatever is within their competency. In that way, one dwells in the world, to be sure, just like the three young men in the fiery furnace of Babylon, not being harmed at all by the mysterious flames that burn incessantly. Oh if only everyone understood these truths, how much more successfully would we pursue the goal for which we have been created, while recognizing ourselves as pilgrims on this earth and spend the days of our life with interior detachment from whatever is transitory! Dominus pars haereditatis meae et calicis mei, tu es qui restitues haereditatem meam mihi (11) (says the royal Prophet). ... Introduxit me in cellam vinariam, ordinavit in me caritatem. (12) (Cant. 2/4). This wine cellar, St. Teresa writes, is divine love which, when it takes possession of a heart, inebriates it with itself in such a way that it makes it forget everything that is created. A person who is drunk is, as it were, dead in his senses: he does not see nor hear nor speak. That is what happens to a soul that is inebriated with divine love, as it no longer has a sensation for things of this world and does not wish to think of anything else but God, to speak of anything but God, nor do anything else but love and please God.

The Lord said to St. Gertrude, who had asked him what he wished of her: "I wish nothing more from you than a heart devoid of all created things". The prayer of union (St. Teresa writes) it seems to me indeed to be nothing other than a dying as it were to all created things in this world so as to enjoy God alone. What is certain is that the more we turn away from creatures, detaching ourselves for the love of God, the more he will fill us with himself and the more closely united we will be with him. Deus meus et omnia. (13) St. Francis was wont to say: Oh my God, you are my all and my every good! What beautiful words those are: "My God and my all". Thomas a Kempis says that for one who understands this, nothing more need be said; and for one who loves, it is a sweet experience to repeat always: Deus meus et omnia. The aforementioned St. Francis de Sales would say: "If I ever came to discover in my heart a single fiber that was not God's, I would want to tear it out immediately".

Let us conclude then: we must be altogether God's, just as he gave himself entirely for us. "Oh how deceived (de Sales says) is the one who bases sanctity on something other than the love of the Lord. Some base sanctity (the Saint writes) on austerities, others on almsgiving, others on prayer, others on frequenting the sacraments. As for me, I know of no other perfection than that of loving God with all my heart. For, all the other virtues, without love, are only a pile of stones. If we do not enjoy perfectly this holy love, the defect lies in us since we fail to give ourselves entirely to God."

Here is how St. John of the Cross speaks allegorically on this subject: "It makes little difference whether a bird is bound with a heavy cord or with a very thin one; the bird will always remain bound and never be able to fly away". Let us apply these reflections to our own situations and let us reach the goal that we hope for.

Finally, the means for attaining perfect love are the following, taught to us by the angelic Doctor, St. Thomas: First, to have a continuous remembrance of the general and particular benefits received. Second, to think of the infinite goodness of God which is always ready to do good to us, to always love us, and to seek our love. Third, to diligently avoid even the least thing that is displeasing to him. Fourth, to renounce all earthly goods (not having an inordinate attachment to them). Fr. Taulero adds still another great means to the attainment of a perfect love of Jesus Christ, namely, meditation on his holy Passion.

So, Countess, let us continue spiritually to live always in the holy union of love at the foot of the Cross; there, reciprocally, let us implore divine mercy. Let us be concerned about our eternal salvation. Reflect often on the great desire that the Savior has to see that everyone is saved. Remove from your heart every worry and harmful fear. Serve the Almighty with joy of spirit, which I heartily urge you to do. Do not doubt that you will gain the incorruptible crown. Have a special remembrance of me, a miserable sinner who, by reason of the priesthood to which God has called me, stand in need of much spiritual help to faithfully correspond to it. Without adding anything further, I am
Your humble servant

P. S. You must be patient if these letters of mine do not arrive with regularity on the set days that we agreed upon, since it is necessary for us to adapt ourselves to the present circumstances. But, be absolutely convinced of my very deep and solid concern for this undertaking (even though I recognize what a weak instrument I am, ignorant and good for nothing). In practice, you will see how you will make progress prudently in working for the greater glory of God. Whenever I have a page to send to you, I will include it with the ones I send to Monsignor Annibale and, in that way, our letter correspondence will be kept known only to the Lord. Be happy, very happy, and again be assured that I am

Your humble servant

(1) In 1813, Wednesday of Holy Week fell on April 14th. Therefore, we have assigned that date to this letter.
(2) I have come to cast fire on the earth, and what do I wish but that it be blazing?
(3) Some words were scratched out here.
(4) He emptied himself taking the form of a slave.
(5) My delights are with the children of men.
(6) The love of Christ urges us.
(7) Son, offer me your heart, behold my heart.
(8) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.
(9) Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.
(10) God of my heart, and God is my part for eternity.
(11) The Lord is part of my inheritance and of my chalice; you it is who will restore my inheritance to me.
(12) He brought me into the wine cellar, and his intention toward me was love.
(13) My God and all.

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at July 1, 2006 3:50 PM

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