This and other postings in this series are taken from a day of recollection I did for the Daughters of St. Francis de Sales in 2016.
Effective love is love that is experienced and expressed in the way in which we live our lives. As in the distinction that Francis makes between ecstasies of intellect and emotions and the ecstasy of work and life, so too, if a person remains in the glories of affective love without exercising it in the way they live their lives, their love is highly suspect. As you all know in your own relationships, love that does not express itself in a daily decision to love, in the hundreds of loving acts that we do for those we love, is superficial and false. Effective love is love that expresses itself in our decision to unite our will with the will of God whom we have come to love. Effective love is exercised in the will; we decide how we are going to live, how we are going to act. This is done in two separate ways. The first is by acts of conformity of the will. This is what we usually think of as obedience to the will of God. We know what God has commanded in the scriptures and through the teaching of the church and we conform our will to those commandments. We also know that Jesus counseled us to do certain things. These are not commandments and, in fact, cannot be practiced by everyone, certainly not in the same way. If you are called to be a husband or wife, you obviously cannot practice celibacy. A manager of a large business cannot practice the poverty exemplified by Francis of Assisi.But a married person can practice marital chastity; and those with substantial wealth can be both responsible and generous in the way they use it. Finally we can conform our will to the inspirations that God gives us. If we are truly inspired to do something, responding to that inspiration is clearly an act of love. We think of St. Teresa of Calcutta inspired to leave her teaching congregation to serve the poorest of the poor. Obviously, one has to be cautious in following inspirations. The more radical the decision or the act that we are inspired to do, the more important it is to test the inspiration through prayer, patience and especially spiritual direction. On the other hand, we can be inspired to do little acts of love that have little or no impact on our responsibilities to those around us, but are still acts of effective love of God.
Effective love of God can also be practiced in what Francis calls the love of submission. Whereas in the love of conformity, we conform our will to what we believe and understand to be God’s will, in the love of submission, we unite our will to what is clearly God’s will. We know it is clearly within God’s will because it has happened and we know that, sin excepted, nothing happens that is not within God’s will. At times God’s will is, from our point of view, delightful. People fall, in love, have children, or recover from illness. There are events in our lives that we hope for – as well as delightful surprises we never see coming – that we accept as coming from the loving hands of God. Giving thanks to God for these good things is an act of effective love. But we also know that there are tragic moments in life, horrible moments, moments from which we can see no good coming: financial ruin, natural disasters, betrayal by a friend or loved one, death of a beloved, chronic and or terminal illness.This is the mystery of evil and suffering in this life. We don’t know why it happens, but it does. When it does, one who loves with effective love, the love of submission accepts the reality of the suffering and pain without denying or challenging the love of God. This is what St. Jane de Chantal calls the martyrdom of love, and Francis says it is the highest form of love, because there is no self-love in it. It is love for God, pure and simple. It is living out in our lives what St. Paul said in the letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” And when Christ lives in us, then we live in the promised hope of sharing in his resurrection.
Our love for God begins in the complacence we take in his goodness and in the benevolence in which we praise and glorify him and respond to him with the affective and effective love. Like the mysteries of the rosary, we start in joy, progress through illumination to sorrow, passion and death, but the story does not end there. By commanding that we love him, Our God who loved us first, leads us through this life and its peaks and valleys to an eternity of love where our complacence and benevolence catch us up in a spiral of ever increasing love and joy with him forever.