This prayer is from the Exercises in the Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori. These are the meditations we use during the Stations of the Cross at St. Agnes:
I love Thee, Jesus my love; I love Thee more than myself; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.
This prayer, or a variation of it, is recited after every station, so you get to know it by heart after awhile. For the last few years I’ve used it as an Act of Contrition prior to receiving the Eucharist. But what does it mean to love Jesus more than yourself? It’s a question with which I’ve struggled often, both rhetorically and for real.
In the abstract it’s a noble sentiment, a good thing to say; but how would one really know that they love Jesus more than themselves? Do you love Jesus more than your spouse, for example? It’s a question that’s not as easily answered as I would hope.
Now I’m not a theologian – I didn’t stay last night at a Holiday Inn Express, and I’m just barely struggling through as a Catholic – so I’m sure there are many who’ve offered much more concrete writing on this subject than I. But for me, one way to check your love for Jesus is to think back to the last time you had this thought run through your mind:
"I really shouldn’t be saying [or doing] this."
Now, I’m not necessarily talking about a major sin, here (although it certainly applies to breaking any one of the Ten Commandments). What I’m really thinking about is the urge to say something nasty about somebody at work, or the desire for that extra piece of cake even though the doctor’s told us to try and watch our weight. Something more subtle, in other words. But it’s a perfect opportunity for us to ask ourselves the question "Is this a test of how much I love Jesus?"
Many times the thought "I shouldn’t be doing this" comes to us because we know in some way that the act is displeasing to God, that we really shouldn’t be doing it and we’ll probably wind up feeling guilty about it afterward. But I just can’t help myself, we say to ourselves. It’s only a little thing. It will make me feel better if I do it.
We’ve all felt this way. (At least I certainly have.) But in thinking of how to show our love for Jesus, particularly in wondering if we love Him more than we do ourselves, we should look at these small things as opportunities to prove to ourselves how much we love Him. So let’s look at that little temptation we’re facing. Maybe it’s not a big deal, maybe it won’t hurt anyone, but I know it’s not the right thing to do. It’s unbecoming to me, it’s beneath my dignity. I may not have changed my mind about how I feel, I might even be justified under the circumstances, but I’m going to purposely refrain from doing it, even though I really want to do it, even though it will make me feel better – because I’m more interested in making Jesus feel better than I am myself.
And if that’s the case, if we’re more interested in pleasing Him, no matter how small it might be, than we’ve shown that for this brief moment at least, we love Him more than we do ourselves. If we can do it for one brief moment, we can do it for several brief moments. If we can do it for one small thing, we might be able to do it for one big thing. And so on.
As I’ve said, I’m no expert on this, but it seems to me as if this is one way to make the abstract more real for us, to remove it from the category of mere words, to satisfy ourselves that we can love Jesus more than ourselves.
We can’t do it on our own, of course. We need His constant grace, and even with that we may disappoint Him more times than we want to count. But that’s why we pray for grace to do the right thing. That’s why we dare to approach Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. And that’s why He gave Himself up for us on the Cross.
Pray the prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori as you approach Jesus in the Eucharist. Pray that He will give you the help you want and need to show Him how much you love Him. And then, in faith, put yourself in His hands as you pray "do with me what Thou wilt."