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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
St. Paul’s Admirable Exhortation to the Supernatural and Ecstatic Life
By Saint Francis de Sales (1567–1622)
 
From ‘A Treatise on the Love of God’

NOTHING can be more emphatic, nor more wonderful, than the arguments employed by St. Paul to urge us to this ecstatic life, in which man, always elevated above himself by his actions, lives in a species of continual rapture. The words of this great apostle are replenished with a celestial fire and a holy enthusiasm; it is impossible not to feel their strength and energy.  1
  They proceed from a heart burning with love; and each of us should apply them to himself: “The charity of Christ,” said he, “presseth us” (2 Cor. v. 14). Is it not true that nothing influences the heart so forcibly as love? We are eager to return love for love, to those whom we know to be animated with affection for us; this ardor redoubles when the love of a superior anticipates that of an inferior; and if it be a powerful monarch who is the first to love his subject, the anxiety of the latter to return his affection must be extreme.  2
  Jesus Christ, the only true God, the eternal and omnipotent Divinity, has loved us to so great a degree as to die for us on a cross: do we require any other motive to urge us ardently and continually to correspond with such infinite and unmerited goodness? Our divine Master, in furnishing us by his death with so powerful and irresistible a motive to love him, seems resolved to extract from our hearts the most ardent affection they are capable of feeling. By thus anticipating our affections, he employs a kind of violence which is the more powerful, as it is perfectly conformable to our natural inclinations.  3
  In what manner, and in what circumstances, does the sovereign Friend of our souls press us? This we learn from the words of St. Paul: “The charity of Christ presseth us,” when we consider the effects of his love for us, as revealed by faith. Let us then attentively consider the benefits of our divine Savior, let us continually meditate on them, and his love will press us. But again, what is the object proposed to our reflections? The words of the apostle are worthy of observation; they tend to impress our hearts in a peculiar manner with the instructions they convey, “judging,” said he, or considering, “that if one died for all, then all were dead.” And Christ died for all. (2 Cor. v. 14, 15.) The inference to be drawn from this truth is self-evident: a Savior died for all: consequently all must have been dead, since they required a Savior; and the merits of his death must be applied to the whole human race, since it has been endured by all.  4
  What follows from this? We learn from the great apostle, who says that “They who live, may not now live to themselves, but to him who died for them, and rose again.” (2 Cor. v. 15.) All that Jesus requires of us, in laying down his life for our salvation, is that we conform our lives to his, and love him as he loved us. What an irresistible influence must these words of the apostle have on hearts susceptible of love!  5
  Jesus Christ died for us; he has purchased us life by his death; we only live because he died; he died to us, by applying to us the merits of his death; he died in us to eradicate from our hearts the germ of sin, which was the cause of his death and ours; he sacrificed his life for us, to deliver us from death. Our life then no longer belongs to us; it is the possession of him who has purchased it by his death: therefore we should no longer live to ourselves, in or for ourselves, but only to him, in him, and for him.  6
  A young girl, a native of the isle of Sestos, brought up an eagle with all the care and attention which children usually lavish on their favorites. When it had begun to follow its natural instinct, by chasing smaller birds, it never failed to bring its prey to its dear mistress, as if to prove its gratitude. During its absence on one of these occasions, it happened that its young benefactress died; and according to the custom of the time and country, her body was placed on a pile to be burned. The eagle returned just as the flames began to ascend; and as if penetrated with grief at the view of this melancholy spectacle, it dropped its prey and threw itself on the body of its mistress, covering her with its wings as if to screen her from the fire. It remained motionless in this position, the excess of its love seeming more violent than the fire by which it was consumed, and died a victim to its benefactress, leaving to mankind an example of lively and disinterested gratitude.  7
  Does not this anecdote suffice to inflame our hearts with love? Our divine Benefactor has watched over us from the earliest dawn of the morning of life, even from the first moment of our conception: we may say in the words of the Psalmist, “Thou art he that hast drawn me out of the womb; thy paternal arms have been the support of my tottering steps.” (Ps. xxi. 10.)  8
  These first benefits of our divine Redeemer have been followed by still greater: he has made us children by baptism, that we might belong to him on the score of spiritual regeneration; he has condescended, by an incomprehensible effort of love, to watch over our education, to provide for our spiritual and corporal wants: in fine, he sacrificed his life to purchase ours, and left us his adorable body and precious blood for our food. What can we infer from all these marks of tender love, if not that “They who live, should not now live to themselves, but to him who died for them and rose again”? That is, every moment of our existence should be consecrated to the love of a God who has laid down his life for us; all our exertions, actions, thoughts, and affections should be referred solely to his glory. (2 Cor. v. 15.)  9
  Consider our divine Redeemer, stretched on the cross as on a funeral pile, a bed of state to which he is about to be immolated, and acknowledge that in this circumstance, love has indeed been stronger than death: over which it has doubly triumphed, because it both ordained and consummated the sacrifice, of which death has been only the instrument; and because by inducing our divine Savior to die for us, it has rendered the most infamous and cruel of all deaths sweeter than even love itself.  10
  Had we the generosity and gratitude of the eagle we have been speaking of, we would not hesitate at this sight to cast ourselves in spirit on the cross of our divine Redeemer, to expire thereon with him; and embracing him by our ardent affections, we should exclaim, I hold him, and I will rather die than let him go. Yes, I shall expire with him, the happy victim of his love; the sacred fire which spared not my omnipotent Creator must likewise immolate his creature. My Savior is entirely mine: I desire to be wholly his; to live and die reposing on his bosom, that neither death nor life may ever separate me from him.  11
  In this consists the holy and practical ecstasy of life and action; it is produced by love, which causes us to renounce the feelings and inclinations of corrupt nature, elevates us above ourselves to conform our lives and actions to the will and inspirations of Jesus Christ.  12
 
 
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