Do you see, Theotimus, that glass of water or that piece of bread which a holy soul gives to a poor body for God's sake; it is a small matter, God knows, and in human judgment hardly worthy of consideration: God, notwithstanding, recompenses it, and forthwith gives for it some increase of charity. The goat's-hair which was anciently presented to the Tabernacle was received in good part, and had place amongst the holy offerings; and the little actions which proceed from charity are agreeable to God, and have their place among merits. For as in Araby the Blest, not only the plants which are by nature aromatic, but even all the others, are sweet, gaining a share in the felicity of that soil; so in a charitable soul not only the works which are excellent of their own nature, but also the little actions, smell of the virtue of holy love, and have a good odour before the majesty of God, who in consideration of them increases charity. And I say God does it, because Charity does not produce her own increase as a tree does, which by its own virtue produces and throws out, one from another, its boughs: but as Faith, Hope and Charity are virtues which have their origin from the divine goodness, so thence also they draw their increase and perfection, not unlike bees, which, having their extraction from honey, have also their food from it.
Wherefore, as pearls are not only bred of dew but fed also with it, the mother-pearls to this end opening their shells towards heaven to beg, as it were, the drops which the freshness of the air makes fall at the break of day, so we, having received Faith, Hope and Charity from the heavenly bounty, ought always to turn our hears and keep them turned towards it, thence to obtain the continuation and augmentation of the same virtues. |O, Lord,| does holy Church our mother teach us to say, |give us the increase of faith, hope and charity.| And this is in imitation of those that said to Our Saviour: Lord increase our faith, and following the counsel of S. Paul, who assures us that: God alone is able to make all grace abound in us.
It is God therefore that gives this increase, in consideration of the use we make of his grace, as it is written; For he that hath, that is, who uses well the favours received, to him shall be given, and he shall abound. Thus is Our Saviour's exhortation practised: Lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: as though he said: add ever new good works to the former ones; for fasting, prayer and alms-deeds are the coins whereof your treasures are to consist. Now as amongst the treasures of the temple, the poor widow's mite was much esteemed, and as indeed, by the addition of many little pieces treasures become great, and their value increases, so the least little good works, even though performed somewhat coldly, and not according to the whole extent of the charity which is in us, are agreeable to God, and esteemed by him; in such sort that though of themselves they cannot cause any increase in the existing love, being of less force than it, yet the divine Providence, counting, and out of his goodness, valuing them, forthwith rewards them with increase of charity for the present, and assigns to them a greater heavenly glory for the future.
Theotimus, bees make the delicious honey which is their chief work; but the wax, which they also make, does not therefore cease to be of some worth, or to make their labour valuable. The loving heart ought to endeavour to bring forth works full of fervour, and of high value, that it may powerfully augment charity: yet if it bring forth some of lesser value, it shall not lose its recompense; for God will be pleased by these, that is to say he will love us ever a little more for them. Now God never loves a soul more without bestowing also upon her more charity, our love towards him being the proper, and special effect, of his love towards us.
The more attentively we regard our image in a looking-glass, the more attentively it regards us again; and the more lovingly God casts his gracious eyes upon our soul, which is made to his image and likeness, our soul in return, with so much the more attention and fervour is fixed upon the divine goodness, answering, according to her littleness, every increase which this sovereign sweetness makes of his divine love towards her. The Council of Trent says thus: |If any say that justice received is not preserved, yea that it is not augmented, by good works in the sight of God, but that works are only the fruits and signs of justification acquired, and not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.| Do you see, Theotimus, the justification wrought by charity is augmented by good works, and, which is to be noted, by good works without exception: for, as S. Bernard says excellently well on another subject, nothing is excepted where nothing is distinguished. The Council speaks of good works indifferently, and without reservation, giving us to understand, that not only the great and fervent, but also the little and feeble works cause the increase of holy Charity, but the great ones greatly, and the little much less.
Such is the love which God bears to our souls, such his desire to make us increase in the love which we owe to him. The divine sweetness renders all things profitable to us, takes all to our advantage, and turns all our endeavours, though never so lowly and feeble, to our gain.
In the action of moral virtues little works bring no increase to the virtue whence they proceed, yea, if they be very little, they impair it: for a great liberality perishes if it occupies itself in bestowing things of small value, and of liberality becomes niggardliness. But in the actions of those virtues which issue from God's mercy, and especially of charity, every work gives increase. Nor is it strange that sacred love, as King of virtues, has nothing either great or small which is not loveable, since the balm tree, prince of aromatic trees, has neither bark nor leaf that is not odoriferous: and what could love bring forth that were not worthy of love, or did not tend to love?