To prefer nothing to the love of Christ (IV:1)

CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
18 Jan. 19 May. 18 Sept.

In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength.
2. Then one’s neighbour as oneself.
3. Then not to kill.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To honour all men.
9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself, in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to seek after delicate living.
13. To love fasting.
14. To relieve the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help in affliction.
19. To console the sorrowing.
20. To keep aloof from worldly actions.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

We read Chapter IV over four days. The section appointed for today begins with “to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength,” and ends with “preferring nothing to the love of Christ.” The 2nd through the 9th Instruments have to do with living justly and walking in charity. Love of one’ brother is the test of one’s love of God. These instruments correspond, in effect, to the words of Saint John:

The man who hates his brother is in the dark, guides his steps in the dark without being able to tell where he is going; darkness has fallen, and blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:11)

The 10th through the 13th Instruments have to do with denying oneself in order to follow Christ out of love, according to His own words:

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, and cast away himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

The 14th through the 19th Instruments are a summary of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us. If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)

The 20th Instrument enjoins separation from the world, following the words of Saint John:

Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

The 21st Instrument puts the love of Christ before all else: “To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” There is a passage from a sermon of Saint John Chrysostom in praise of Saint Paul that, to my mind, wonderfully illustrates this Instrument. Saint Chrysostom present Saint Paul as the man who put the love of Christ before all else:

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.

To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet. (Hom. 2 de laudibus sancti Pauli: PG 50, 477-480)

For us, the 21st Instrument also has a Eucharistic connotation. What is the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar if not the love of Christ, offered for us in sacrifice; given to us as food and drink; offering us His divine friendship; pitching His tent among us; and waiting for us day and night? “To prefer nothing to the love of Christ” means, concretely, to prefer nothing to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.