Flames of Divine Love (Part 2/3)
The Fire of the Saints
Of course, all of the saints discovered the love of Christ intimately. Some, however, experienced the flames of divine love in a remarkable way. I will highlight three of them, starting with St. Gemma Galgani, the “Passion Flower” of Lucca, Italy.
St. Gemma Galgani:
St. Gemma had an extraordinary love for God. During the course of her short life, she had visions, received the stigmata, took communion from Christ himself, and suffered terrible attacks from the devil. The flames of divine love were manifested in her physically, as she explained to her spiritual director:
“For the last eight days I have felt something mysterious in the area of my heart that I cannot understand. The first couple of days I disregarded it, because it gave me only a little trouble. But today is the third day, and this fire has increased, oh so much, as to be almost unbearable. I should need ice to put it out, and it hinders my eating and sleeping. It is a mysterious fire that comes from within, then goes to the outside. It is, however, a fire that does not torment me, rather it delights me, but it also exhausts and consumes me……Jesus, Father, will make you understand everything about it. Great God, how I love You! Oh, how love You!”
While in ecstasy, Gemma was heard to say:
“You are on fire Oh Lord, and I burn. Oh pain, oh infinitely happy love! Oh sweet fire! Oh sweet flames! And would You wish my heart to become a flame? Oh, I have found the flame that destroys and reduces to ashes! Cease, cease, I cannot withdraw my heart from so much fire. What am I saying…No; rather come Jesus! I will open my heart to You; put Thy Divine fire into it. You are a flame, and let my heart be turned into a flame!….Come then, Oh Jesus! Your heart is a flame and you wish mine to be turned into a flame as well….Jesus, I feel I must die when you are throbbing so in my heart.”
This fire caused her great suffering but also the greatest joy. On another occasion, she writes:
“My heart, Father, is the victim of Love, and I shall soon die of love. These flames of love consume my body, as well as my heart, and I shall be reduced to ashes. Yesterday, as I drew near to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I felt myself burning so violently, that I was obliged to move away. I was burning all over; it rose even to my face. Viva Gesu! How does it happen that so many who are standing so close to Jesus do not burn to ashes?
St. Padre Pio:
St. Pio gives us a description of the fires of divine love acting primarily as a source of consolation:
"I no sooner began to pray than my heart is filled with a fire of love. This fire does not resemble any fire of this lowly earth. It is a delicate and very gentle flame which consumes without causing any pain…This is a wonderful thing for me, something I will perhaps never understand until I get to Heaven."
It is important to note that the aspiration of the Christian should not solely be in consolations such as those granted to St. Pio and St. Gemma. They are a gift from God, and if we receive them we should remember that the gift can never be greater than the giver (naturally). Thus, St. Pio offers this piece of wisdom to remind us that the fires of divine love do not come without struggle:
"In order to attract us, the Lord grants us many graces that we believe can easily obtain us Heaven. We do not know, however, that in order to grow, we need hard bread: the cross, humiliation, trials and denials."
St. Thérèse of Lisieux:
St. Thérèse is known for her simplicity in her “little way” to Christ. In her life, she experienced no visions or locutions, recieved no stigmata or extraordinary divine revelations. She did, however, put all of her trust in God, even as she suffered immensely through a time of spiritual dryness. At times, she felt that God was very far away, but still, the fires of divine love burned in this little child of Jesus through her simplicity, innocence, and heroic virtue. Her trust in God’s love is expressed by her as such:
"In times of aridity when I am incapable of praying, of practicing virtue, I seek little opportunities, mere trifles, to give pleasure to Jesus; for instance a smile, a pleasant word when inclined to be silent and to show weariness. If I find no opportunities, I at least tell Him again and again that I love Him; that is not difficult and it keeps alive the fire in my heart. Even though this fire of love might seem extinct I would still throw little straws upon the embers and I am certain it would rekindle."
A different translation of the last sentiment above reads:
"Even if the fire of love seemed to have gone out, I would keep on throwing fuel in it and Jesus would take care to light it up again."
St. Thérèse knew that God would provide. As long as she made an effort, she knew that Jesus would be there to meet her, and this is why the flames of love were never extinguished in the heart of this holy saint. Even as she lay suffering during the last months of her short life, she did not fear death, as she writes:
"No, I cannot fear Purgatory; I know that I do not merit even to enter with the Holy Souls into that place of expiation, but I know too that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory, I know that Jesus cannot will needless suffering for us, and that He would not inspire me with the desires I feel if He were unwilling to fulfill them."
Thus we see that the flames of divine love inspire within the soul great trust in He who bestows them.