The Greatest Lover
In India, there once lived a God-loving saint and his wife. The saint loved his wife, but he loved God more than anything else. In fact, he had married with the firm resolution that he would leave his wife and possessions if God ever urged him to leave all for His sake.
Continually he would ask himself whether he loved anything more than God. He thought: “If I ever stoop to love someone or something more than God, I will remove that obstacle.”
After a while, the saint and his wife decided to go on a pilgrimage. His wife was about to give birth to a baby, and both thought it would be auspicious for the baby to be born in the holy city of Benares.
On the way to Benares, as they passed along the outskirts of a certain city, the wife was stricken with labor pains. The saint hastily took her into a dilapidated, deserted house. As the wife writhed in agony, she said to her husband, “Saintly one, I feel I am going to die. Promise me that you won’t, under divine impulse, desert our new-born baby.”
Extremely touched by the words of his stricken wife, the saint was torn between his love for the child about to be born and his paramount love for God. Then he thought: “I could love neither my wife nor the baby unless God gave them to me, and also gave me the love with which to love them. No matter what happens, I will never let anything come in the way of my love for God. I will forsake everything for God.” He then resolved to cut off his hand, pluck out his eye, or otherwise maim himself if, by so doing, he would become worthy of God’s love.
Although inwardly resolved, the saint, to console his wife, replied to her repeated entreaties by saying, “I will try my utmost to carry out your wishes.”
But hard are the tests of God and subtle are the ways of delusion. It happened that the wife died, leaving behind the beautiful baby boy which the saint and his wife had hoped to attract. The baby was crying piteously when, all of a sudden, there was a great rumble in the ether and a great light. A divine presence possessed the saint and a voice said, “Beloved, come to me. We will remain in the ecstasy of divine love in the Himalayan caves.”
Shaken with his love of God on the one hand, and his love of the helpless baby on the other, the saint thought: “I could not know what love is, nor have this baby to love, without God’s love. If I cannot forsake father, mother, wife, child, and life itself for God, I am not worthy of Him.”
He then prayed: “Lord, master of my life. I must you show that my love for you is greater than my love for this baby. So now, Lord, please take care of the baby, as I must depart for the bower of the Himalayan caves to commune with You.”
As if in response to his prayer, his eyes suddenly rested on the floor where he saw a lizard give birth to an egg and silently slink away. The egg broke; a little baby lizard was born. It opened its mouth in hunger and suddenly a small insect flew in its mouth. Its hunger satisfied, the little lizard began to move toward a hiding place. Seeing this, the saint thought: “If the Lord feeds the baby lizard, forsaken by its mother, so also will He take care of my baby, forsaken by his mother and father.
In the deep ecstasy of God’s love, the saint ran out of the house. But as he heard the baby’s cries, his heart was shaken and his love for the child nearly suffocated him. He stood under a tree and prayed: “Lord, although my love for you is greater than my love for the child, you gave me a human heart and I am worried about this helpless motherless, fatherless baby. Lord, I beseech you: show me that my baby will be cared for.”
Just then, the saint saw the royal coach stop at the deserted house, attracted by the child’s cries. The queen climbed out of the coach, entered the house, picked up the baby and swiftly departed for her palace.
While lingering in the city for a day or two, the saint heard that the king and queen, having no children of their own, had adopted the foundling as their child and successor to the throne. Much pleased, the saint left the city to keep his tryst with God in the Himalayan caves.
MORAL: Love God with all your heart and soul. Love God more than you love anything, for you cannot know love, nor love anyone or anything, without first receiving that love from God. Seek the kingdom of God first; then all your desires will be fulfilled.
From the Praecepta Lessons, 1938.