Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas
Which is the greatest sign of His love our Lord has given us?
It would seem that Christ gave us a greater sign of His love by giving us His body as our food than by suffering for us. For the love that will be in the life to come is a more perfect thing than the love that is in this life. And the benefit that Christ bestows on us by giving us His body as food is more like to the love of the life to come in which we shall fully enjoy God. The Passion that Christ underwent for us is, on the other hand, more like to the love that is of this life, in which we, too, are to suffer for Christ. Therefore it is a greater sign of Christ’s love for us that He delivered His body to us as our food, than that He suffered for us.
Nevertheless, it is an argument against this that in St. John’s gospel Our Lord himself says, Greater love than this no man hath that a man lay down His life for his friends (John xv. 13).
The strongest of human loves is the love with which a man loves himself. Therefore this love must be the measure, by comparison with which we estimate the love by which a man loves others than himself. Now the extent of a man’s love for another is shown by the extent of good desired for himself that he forgoes for his friend. As Holy Scripture says, He that neglecteth a loss for the sake of a friend is just (Prov. xii. 26). Now a man wishes well to himself as to three things, namely, his soul, his body, and things outside himself.
It is then already a sign of love that, for another, a man is willing to suffer loss of things outside himself.
It is a greater sign if he is also willing to suffer loss in his body for another, that is, by bearing the burden of work or undergoing punishment.
It is the greatest of all signs of love if a man is willing, by dying for his friend, to lay down his very life.
Therefore, that Christ, in suffering for us, laid down His life was the greatest of all signs that He loved us. That He has given us His body for our food in the sacrament does not entail for Him any loss. It follows then that the first is the greater sign. Also this sacrament is a kind of memorial and figure of the Passion of Christ. But the truth is always greater than that which figures it, the thing is always greater than the memorial that recalls it.
The showing forth of the body of Christ in the sacrament has about it, it is true, a certain figure of the love with which God loves us in the life to come. But Christ’s Passion is associated with that love itself, by which God calls us from perdition to the life to come. The love of God, however, is not greater in the life to come than it is in this present life.