The science of divine love is measured along a dimension of intensity and depth, rather than the worldly one of quantity. With this equation, the means for our sanctification is established. All our actions, prayers, and sufferings build up the mystical body of Christ.
“The Prodigal Son” painting by Murillo
The human dimension works along quantity, finite pleasures, and immediate reward. The eternal dimension is one of quality, eternal treasures, and delayed reward. Quality is always superior to quantity. The growth of divine love or charity is through its intensity where we come to love God more perfectly and purely for himself.
To increase in love is to become full of the grace of God which fills our souls with the divine love of his heavenly kingdom. The “multiplying” of love is not by the addition of acts upon acts. The science of divine loves works on another dimension where “love increases in us so far as it becomes stronger.” The intensity of love in our souls is determined by our ability to receive the fullness of God’s love.
Charity does not grow by addition, like a heap of wheat. This addition would multiply charity without making it more intense. The increase would be in the order of quantity rather than quality, which is quite a different thing. In reality, charity or love increases in us in so far as it becomes stronger, takes deeper root in our will. As with the scholar, learning becomes more profound, more penetrating, more certain, without always reaching out to new conclusions. So charity grows in us by making us love God more perfectly and more purely for himself, and our neighbour for God. 1
In the same way that God is more glorified by a single act of pure love, so is the perfection of one soul of greater benefit to the whole Church, and more pleasing to God, than a number of souls who remain in a mediocre or a lukewarm state.
God is more glorified by a single act of charity of ten talents than by ten acts of charity of one talent each. Likewise, a single, very perfect, just soul pleases God more than many others who remain in mediocrity or tepidity. Quality is superior to quantity. This is why the plenitude of grace in Mary surpassed from the first day of her existence that of all the saints, as a single diamond is worth more than a quantity of precious stones. 2
The mystery of “the smallest act with the most pure love” is also, by analogy, a reflection of the value and measure of sanctifying grace in proportion to God’s creation. There is a great beauty and paradox in the value of sanctifying grace. The least degree of sanctifying grace is superior in value, and more precious, than the natural good of the universe, together with all the angelic natures. The natural good of the universe includes all the good acts performed on a purely human level in the absence of the divine light. The exclusion or lessening of the divine in our actions decreases their eternal value. The reward of purely human actions which seek their own glory is treasure for this world. The extent of our treasure stored up for the next world is measured by the degree to which we “share in the divine nature” (Pet 2:4) in our exile.
All tradition declares that the life of grace on earth is in reality the seed of glory. St. Thomas delights in saying: “for grace is nothing else than the beginning of glory in us.” He also used to like to say: “The good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe.” The slightest degree of sanctifying grace contained in the soul of an infant after baptism is more precious than the natural good of the entire universe, all angelic natures taken together included therein; for the least degree of sanctifying grace belongs to an enormously superior order, to the order of the inner life of God, which is superior to all miracles, and to all the outward signs of divine revelation. 3
The science of divine love is measured along a dimension of intensity and depth, rather than the worldly one of quantity. With this equation, the means for our sanctification is established. All our actions, prayers, and sufferings build up the mystical body of Christ. On their own, they have no eternal value, but when undertaken in union with Christ, they are eternal possessions in the eyes of God. The degree of eternal value is determined by the intensity and depth of faith, hope, and love. Adopting the science of divine love, the effectiveness of prayer is, therefore, measured on the depth of hope and confidence in the merciful love of God. This is similar to how the true value of an action is measured by the depth of love where “the smallest action with the most pure love” brings true glory to God. Building on this principle, we can boldly place our confidence in God’s merciful love for the salvation of souls through “the smallest prayer with the greatest hope.” To conclude the relief of the holy souls in Purgatory could be brought about when we offer up “the smallest (or least) suffering with the greatest faith.” The science of divine love is presented here as offering a practical way of highlighting the beauty, mystery, and significance of supernatural charity in achieving the universal aims of the Catholic Church.
The Glory of God: The Smallest Act with the Greatest (Most Pure) Love
The law of grace perfects human nature which is weak and self-centred. It elevates and transforms all natural activity so that it attains supernatural value. Our actions in response to God’s grace take on a different value and meaning, transforming them into beautiful actions, when viewed through the eternal eyes of our loving Father. When our actions are one with Jesus, they are no longer human but divine ones, inspired by love. Grace is hidden, secret, and creative. If we respond totally to grace and become one with Jesus, our prayers, actions, and sufferings will reflect the mysterious qualities of grace. They, too, will be hidden, secret, and creative.
The law of grace is that God gives in abundance, irrespective of merit; there is a lack of proportion between earthly labour and heavenly merit. “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward”(Mt 10:42). The excessive generosity of God is limitless as he rewards the smallest of our actions, desires, or thoughts. As St. Paul emphasized, our sufferings bear little resemblance to the reward that awaits us in heaven. “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us”(Rom 8:18). If one act of faith by Dismas not only wiped away a lifetime of sin, but won his immediate entry into paradise, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43); then the generosity of God knows no bounds.
The communication of the interior life of God through grace is attributed to the Holy Spirit. He is the sanctifier of souls, and the third person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the love that flows between the Father and the Son. This flow of love is communicated through the sacraments as we are invited to “share in the divine nature” (Pet 2:4). The ability of a soul to receive God’s grace will determine how much its life resembles God’s own interior life. To receive God’s grace is also, in effect, to receive his love; as grace is the communication of the inner life of God which is the fullest expression of love. The relationship between grace and love is that an increase of grace in a soul will have the effect of producing an increase in love. Along with faith and hope, God’s grace and love are inseparable where an increase in grace will not only result in an increase in love but also faith and hope. The relationship and interconnectedness of faith, hope, love, and grace points to the interpenetrating oneness of the saints in heaven who are “…all only one, all living and revelling in a life of joy, all interpenetrating and reflecting one another.” 4
The world view of success is often based on the visible scale of achievement and perceived benefit to mankind. Many human inventions and scientific discoveries have wide scale benefits in the treatment and prevention of diseases, and improvements in travel and quality of life. Innate to our human nature is the need for achievement, success, and feelings of self-sufficiency. On the spiritual level, the achievement or success is determined by how much we have let God become the sole source of all our activity. In the supernatural world, it is what God does which is the key determinant of success. In addition to this the measure of success, where this veiling of success is the ultimate test of faith in his unconditional love for us, it is completely hidden and secret. If we have complete trust in his unconditional love, and remain united to him through both success and failure, we will truly begin to see ourselves as his adopted children through grace. As an adopted child of God, our increased awareness of our uniqueness and smallness will define, on one level, our “success” in our exile. On a human level, we also want to know how well we are progressing towards our final goal. When the goal is union with God, our progress is his work. Ultimately, it is our cooperation in the reception of grace which defines our “progress” whereby we allow the divine master to gradually purify and mold our soul until we are “holy and spotless”and ready to “live through love in his presence” (Eph 1:4-5).
By doing small things in the spiritual life rather than big things, the focus is more likely to be fixed on God. The big things require a lot of human effort and natural activity for them to become fulfilled. The small things—such as a display of kindness, a victory over impatience, or remaining silent when our natural disposition is to be talkative—are inconsequential on a human level. On a supernatural level, if the focus remains centered on God, then they are big things, as they invite our Lord to abide more in our souls. These small sacrifices, accompanied with a glance to Jesus, or small ejaculatory prayers, enable the Holy Spirit to breathe, little by little, the divine life of God into our souls.
The value of these small things, over the big things in life, is that we are less likely to seek our own glory in small victories over our natural tendencies. The world sees no glory in them, as there is little human glory in remaining silent, displaying kindness, or being patient. However, they are the everyday opportunities that regularly present themselves as a means to seek and bring glory to God. This is where the mystery of the kingdom of heaven is to be found. In our exile, these daily “nothings” are the “mustard seeds” sowed by souls around the world in different times, places, and circumstances. These are gathered up by God to build up his mystical body, and become the shared glory of the saints in heaven. These small nothings happen in isolation, are unnoticed, and often are performed with no immediate benefit. The veil will be lifted on these seemingly meaningless actions in heaven, where the limitation of time, place, and circumstances will give way to the real fruit of grace; the visible and eternal glory of the saints. As Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches” (Mt 13: 31-32).
In her doctrine of the “little way,” St. Therese of Lisieux rejoiced in her weakness and discovered the true measure of divine love as being an action undertaken with the greatest love for Our Lord: attributing all to him with complete understanding of her nothingness and poverty of spirit. Through imitating St. Therese, we bring true glory to God in our actions, while we journey towards God in our life on earth, before our eternal life in heaven. She lived out the famous saying of St. John of the Cross where “the smallest act of pure love is of greater value in the eyes of God, and more profitable to the Church, than the greatest works.” 5 This profit can only be dimly conceived through the eyes of faith in our exile.
The key determinant in our ability to receive the fullness of God’s love is the depth of our faith in his unconditional love. The deeper our faith, the more able we are to receive the purifying power of divine love through times of difficulty and trial, as the attitude of heart will always remain fixed on the all-consuming love God has for us. This depth of faith imitates dimly the act of submission, trust, and obedience of Jesus in doing the will of his Father to the point of his self-emptying on the cross. It is this purity of love, a love without feeling, that enables us to love God more purely for his own sake.
In the eyes of God, it is not the action that is important, but the degree of love with which the action is performed which is of capital importance. This is easy to write and to say; but, what actually would “the smallest act with the most pure love” look like? Would we recognize it in our neighbors? What is definite is that on this side of the eternal kingdom, we will never know whether or not we will achieve it ourselves! The veiling of our actions, as God sees them, is to increase our complete faith and trust in his unconditional love for us. The mystery of “the smallest act with the most pure love” is to journey by faith into the intensity of love Jesus has for his Father. The depth and magnitude of his love is hidden from us through the obscurity of faith during our exile. This intensity of love, and the full knowledge of the science of divine love, will be our reward on entry into the glory of his Father’s house.
The Salvation of Souls: The Smallest Prayer with the Greatest Hope
The smallest prayer like the smallest act, is emphasizing the point that divine love is not measured by human perceptions of greatness, i.e., quantity. The smallest prayer with the greatest hope is surely our Lord’s cry from the cross amidst the extreme depths of suffering he endured. At the moment where he carried the full weight of what the forces of evil could load on his shoulders, he cried out: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). The cry to his Father for the forgiveness of his persecutors represented a bold and confident hope in his Father’s love; an infinite and merciful love that knows no bounds. The greatest hope of the Father is that “he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:5). Since Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), he desires that all come to know him and are saved, ending their life in holy friendship.
The smallest prayer with the greatest hope is a reflection of God’s own desire and hope that all will come to embrace his merciful love, especially, those who are closest to despair at the hour of their death. Our prayers to the Father are to faintly imitate the cry of Jesus from the cross. The content of the prayer is not the crucial issue; it is the depth of hope and confidence in the merciful love of God which is important. His cry in his final moments reached the ultimate depth of love in full submission to the will of his Father. His greatest hope was that his persecutors, and all those who would follow in their path, would repent in their final moments through reaching out and trusting in his mercy.
We are invited to pray with Christ to the Father as he intercedes for us in his full glory at his Father’s right hand. Christ still prays for us, just as he prayed for our forgiveness on the cross. Because of his divinity, his prayers are forever in the eternal now. Our prayers united to his “smallest prayer with the greatest hope” are offered to the Father; and are joined with all the angels and saints who continually implore the Father for the salvation of mankind. We are invited by faith to ascend into heaven with Jesus, to pray with him, and discover the love he has for the Father in his eternal glory.
In the Church today, the doctrine of hell is hardly preached. This is much the same for the doctrine of purgatory and, to a lesser extent, heaven. Adopting the science of divine love, where “the smallest… with the greatest” philosophy is applied, the effectiveness of prayer is, therefore, measured on the depth of hope and confidence. This is similar to where the true value of an action is measured by the depth of love. As previously stated, the true measure of divine love is not measured by the quantity of acts, prayers, and sufferings. From this, it is possible to conclude that the greater number of prayers for non-believers will not necessarily bring about the desired effect, i.e., greatest number of conversions and souls saved. What is more important is the number of individual prayers said with the greatest hope in God’s mercy.
The inspiration to pray is God’s grace working within our souls. He ignites our fire within to pray for others, and fulfills the second precept of charity: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”(Lk 10:27). As prayer is God’s inspiration in our souls, working secretly through the power of the Holy Spirit, it is up to us to remove the barriers to enable his grace to produce the fruits of true love for our neighbor. If we do this, we can view the belief in the doctrine of hell, in light of the eternal glory of heaven, as a truly precious gift from God. His unconditional and merciful love for us is beyond comprehension and words. A failure to describe, and fully capture by words, an eternity of the most glorious and all-consuming love, is to begin to comprehend the precious gift of faith in Jesus Christ. As our understanding of the merciful love of God increases, and our souls become impregnated by his love, so we grow gradually in virtue, and a true love for our neighbor. Our neighbor also extends to those at most risk of damnation. In light of this, it is important to remember that the whole of heaven rejoices when one repentant sinner returns to God: “What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbors? ‘Rejoice with me,” he would say, ‘I have found my sheep that was lost.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15: 4-8).
The Relief of the Holy Souls in Purgatory: The Least Suffering with the Greatest Faith
As we gradually grow in faith, a realization and understanding emerges that allows us to see that everyday trials and difficulties are an opportunity to grow in holiness and, therefore, follow God’s universal call to sanctity. The full acceptance of our human frailty can enable us to see the infinite value of our smallest, or least, sufferings. These offered up for the relief of the holy souls in purgatory is presented here as: “The smallest (or least) suffering with the greatest faith.” These sufferings, such as our ugly and angry thoughts, are a core part of the human condition. They can almost go unnoticed within the daily grind of life, or be suppressed under the mask of “fitting in.” They are there, though, and not only that, but were experienced by all the greatest saints. These sufferings arise from experiencing the many frustrations and irritations of everyday life.
On one level, they remain hidden; but when we are aware of them, we can begin to appreciate their significance when united with the life of Christ. The example of St. Therese, below, reveals a common everyday experience that on the surface can go by unnoticed. The “practice of non-resistance” is certainly not an easy one, as giving into frustrations through a display of impatience is what comes naturally. We are invited by St. Therese “to receive hardships warmly” and supernaturally find a hidden meaning and value in all these daily irritations.
Therese evaded nothing; she met the difficulties of daily routine, whether small or large, and to meet them not by a stoic act of will, but, as it were, with open arms. We must receive such hardships warmly, let them penetrate us, expose ourselves to them, taste them to the full without a shudder. This practice of non-resistance became for Therese noble tranquillity. Her neighbor in choir disturbed her, during the hour of silent prayer, by the highly irritating habit of tapping her fingernails against her teeth. Therese not only refrained from making any remarks, or asking for quiet; she focused all her attention upon the disturbing noise which so racked her nerves that she was bathed in perspiration. At the laundry tub, the sister opposite her worked with such zeal and clumsiness, that she splashed dirty water from handkerchiefs into Therese’s face. Therese not only remained silent; she would not even step aside to avoid the repugnant shower. 6
In imitating St. Therese, we can, first of all, notice and become aware of all the daily irritations that provide an opportunity to not only grow in holiness, but to help the holy souls in their ongoing purification and journey to heaven. These unnoticed and hidden sufferings are a mirror of the “forgotten and unnoticed” doctrine of purgatory. It is with faith that these sufferings, which are the least or lowest within the human experience, have an infinite value when offered up for the holy souls.
The purifying fires of purgatory heal the deep wounds of sin that have scarred souls after a lifetime of neglecting God’s invitations to discover his great love for them. On his own cross, Dismas discovered the great love of God and, in a sincere act of faith, embraced the healing powers of the divinity of the crucified God. His depth of contrition ensured his soul was cleansed of all the stains of a lifetime of sin. Souls who do not embrace the healing powers of God’s love, and reach a sufficient depth of contrition which is beyond all human understanding, will not steal heaven. Instead, they will embrace the purifying fires with the knowledge that paradise will be their final resting place.
The holy souls can no longer merit anything; whatever they suffer in purgatory is to prepare them for entry into the Father’s kingdom, so that they can be “holy and spotless, and live through love in his presence” (Eph 1:4-5). They suffer with love, having glimpsed the glory of their final destiny at the moment of death, and long for entry into the Father’s house. We can offer up for these souls, through faith, all the “forgotten” irritations of our lives, and be assured that those whom we sacrifice for will never forget us. They pray continually for us, so as to lead us to discover the love of God more fully in our lifetime. They desire that we experience the longings and thirst for him in our exile, and so become better prepared to receive him at the time of our calling.
The God of infinite desires waits patiently for us to discover he was always there in our souls, and that he knew us, from all eternity, creating us out of love in his image and likeness. There has never been anyone like each one of us, and never will be. Just as there are no two trees which are alike within any particular species; so also within each species of tree, all the leaves on each and every tree are also different. God in his infinite creativity has created us to share in the splendor of his eternal plan. We share in his eternal plan when we unite our prayers, actions, and sufferings with his Son. Not one dimension of the human condition is fruitless in building up his Mystical Body if we view ourselves as Jesus sees us, and loves us. Just as we are unique and unrepeatable, so our prayers, actions, and sufferings have a unique contribution to the building up of his Mystical Body. As no one else can take our place in heaven, so also our prayer consoles his sacred heart in a unique way, as no one else can pray the way we can. The mystery of our uniqueness will only be fully understood when we reach our final resting place in heaven.
- Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. The Three Ages of the Interior Life: Prelude of Eternal Life Volume One. Translation by Sister M. Timothy Doyle, Tan Books and Publishers INC, 1989, pp 132-133 ↩
- Ibid: p 136 ↩
- Ibid p. 36. ↩
- Very Rev. K. E. Schmoger, C.SS.R. The Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Volume 2. Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1976, p.201. ↩
- Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. Christian Perfection and Contemplation: According to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross. Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 2003. Footnote p. 77. ↩
- Ida Friederike Gorres. The Hidden Face: A Study of St Therese of Lisieux. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, p. 298. ↩