One of my favorite devotional books is 18th century Italian saint Alphonsus Liguori’s The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ.
Liguori, the Naples-born son of a royal navy captain, renounced his childhood privilege to join the priesthood. Widely loved as a “street theologian,” he was drawn to teaching prayer and hymns to desperately poor, illiterate folks in both the Italian cities and countryside.
Liguori’s goal was simple—all spiritual practices should begin and end by reinforcing God’s eternal, very personal love for us. His methods—Liguori’s nickname was “The Zealous Doctor”—were as extravagant and shameless as any romance novelist: He used heightened language to emphasize God’s love as an intoxicating force. Celebrating the Eucharist, Liguori writes:
“After she took Communion, the face of Saint Rose of Lima shone so brightly as to dazzle those who saw her. And her breath was so hot that a hand held near it felt burned.”
Clocking in at 180 fast pages, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ is arranged around Paul’s delicate descriptions of divine love in 1 Corinthians (13:4-7). Each chapter offers practical insights and soaring rhetoric on a different quality of adoration: “Love is Patient,” “Love is Kind,” “Love Bears All Things,” etc. Liguori often begins by describing how God demonstrates those qualities to us, and how we may, in turn, practice them in our own lives. On the inevitable trials we must endure, Liguori writes:
“The steadfast, undying love of Christ for His lovers makes them finally indifferent to what is sweet or bitter, for they always have His example. They enjoy the spirit of freedom proper to the children of God. ”
Liguori is most inspiring when he reminds us that Jesus is even more enthusiastic for a prayerful, committed relationship than we are: “God is infinite goodness who wants to pour Himself out on us. But He wants to be asked. When He listens to a soul pray, He gets so much pleasure that He cannot help but bless the praying soul threefold.”
I’ll have what Liguori’s having.