Chapter 7 – Love of Jesus Above All Things
To say we love Jesus is one thing; to prove the love we profess for Jesus, by our lives, is quite another. It is easy enough to say: “O Jesus, I love Thee with my whole heart, and above all things.” When there is something to be done, unpleasant and difficult for us, but pleasing to Jesus; or when there is something to be avoided, pleasant, perhaps, for us, and very tempting, but sinful, and therefore forbidden by Jesus—then is the time when we can show whether or not we love Jesus above all things: whether our love is only a love in words, or a love in deed and earnest.
Most of you, I presume are acquainted with the history of St. Agnes, virgin and martyr of Rome. This saint, in her life and death, gives us such a beautiful example of true love of Jesus—I do not know what better I could do, by way of illustrating this chapter, than to tell you something of this great saint, her life and death. Listen, therefore, and take it to heart.
St. Agnes, when she is martyred, was only thirteen years of age. Her parents were rich, and of high standing in the city of Rome. Agnes was born a Catholic. She was a saint, even from her earliest childhood. As she grew up, and when she became older, she was filled more and more with a burning love for Jesus. She would love Him above all things; He alone would be her Spouse; she would not love another. Jesus was her All; on Him she had her thoughts fixed constantly; with Him she conversed in her heart; in His presence she always walked, most carefully. You may imagine from this how modest, innocent, beautiful, really angel-like, this holy virgin must have been.
One day it happened that the prefect’s son caught sight of her; and forthwith he was captivated by her extraordinary beauty. His resolve was made immediately. He would woo her and make her his wife. His father, also, gave willing consent, and promised to support him in his suit for the hand of Agnes. And the saint? She had chosen her Saviour, Jesus, for her Spouse; would she now abandon Him to choose the heathen? Oh, no!
Her love for Jesus burst through all restraint; her words are like a burning fire. Listen to what she says: “Depart from me, thou food of death! Another Lover has come before thee, to whom I have given my heart and affection. To Him I will remain faithful; in His arms I trust myself, body and soul.”
The prefect’s son asks her who this lover is, and what kind of a man he is.
Again the Saint answers in terms of rapturous love: “My right hand and my neck He has adorned with precious stones; and to my ears He has fastened gems of inestimable value. He has clothed me with a mantle worked in gold, and beset with most precious ornaments. Honey and milk have I received from His lips, and His blood has crimsoned my cheeks. I am espoused to Him whom the angels serve, whose beauty sun and moon admire. My Spouse is Christ. With beautifying and sparkling gens did He adorn me. A mark He has set upon my face; I shall not admit any other lover but Him.”
Thus did St. Agnes extol the spiritual gifts with which Jesus, her heavenly Spouse, had adorned her soul; but how could the matter-of-fact heathen understand such words? The holy virgin is now tied and dragged before the prefect’s tribunal, to answer for her faith. True to Jesus, she refuses to adore the false gods, in spite of all the prefect’s kind promises and flattering caresses. He commands her now to be led through the streets of Rome, exposed, for shame and disgrace, to the eyes of thousands and thousands of people; after which she is led into a house of lowest wickedness. But God watches over her; Jesus her innocence by several great, astonishing miracles.
Next she is put on a funeral pile, to be burned to death; but the fire does not touch her. The judge then orders the executioner to run his sword through her throat; as he trembles, St. Agnes cheers him up: “Why art thou afraid? Strike and kill this body, which is an object of pleasure for eyes which I do not want to please.” The man now strikes and gives her to the death-blow: and thus it was, my littler followers of Jesus, that St. Agnes shed her blood and laid down her life in fidelity to Jesus, her Spouse, whom she loved most ardently and above all things.
Now, if you have The Following of Christ at hand, or can get one, open it and read the seventh chapter of book the second; and tell me: Could you find anything better to exemplify this lesson about the “Love of Jesus above all things,” than what I have told you about St. Agnes? Let us, therefore, ask Jesus to give us such a love. Ah, yes! We all feel it too well: our hearts are so cold! But Jesus says: “I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?” Let us pray with the Psalmist: “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength: in Thee I will put my trust.”