Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love)

22 Feb

In my previous article, I wrote about Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s column on how to get to heaven. Salvation, as far as I understood Fr. Rolheiser to say, is attained by loving ourselves and other people into heaven. This seems to be a somewhat abstract concept, especially when one considers to what extent we are to love other people.Much of my last post focused on forgiveness. While not the same as love, forgiveness is an important manifestation of love. St. Paul tells us, “(Love) does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8 ) Thus, one characteristic of love is a state of perpetual readiness to forgive. Most people, at one time or another, have thought of God as the only person who is capable of true forgiveness. However, Jesus, having “perceived in his spirit” that the scribes thought that only God could forgive sins and openly labeled Him as a blasphemer for forgiving the paralytic, corrected them. (cf. Mark 2:8 ) It is therefore our joyful duty to forgive as God forgives: perpetually and endlessly.

There is no sin too great for God to forgive. God, in his mercy, will always love His people. From the first act of disobedience against God, humankind was promised redemption. (cf. Genesis 3:15) Christ expects to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Similarly, in the Old Testament Lamech, father of Noah, says, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” In both cases, seventy-seven represents the completeness of God’s mercy imparted to us. The infinity of this mercy is further accentuated when we read in Scripture that Lamech died at 777, just before the flood. (Genesis 5:31) Humankind is created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27), so we ought to lovingly forgive as God does, aided by His grace. Christ assures us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Forgiveness is a gift from God. It’s important to gratefully receive and to use this gift that comes to us because of the love of God for us…

God is rarely explicitly defined in the Bible. However, we read a clear definition of God in 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” This quotation is also the first line in Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), the first encyclical letter by Pope Benedict XVI. I’ve begun reading this letter and I find it wonderful. I’ll post more reflections on Deus Caritas Est on this site as I read along.

Often God is defined in Scripture by his works. For example, when God created the heavens and the earth and all living beings, he saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). However, God is defined by one word in John’s letter: Love. Since God is love, this love should be a central theme in our lives. We have many definitions for love. Often, if something material is strongly desired, we say, “I love that. It’s a must-have.” We hear, “I love you” spoken between spouses, or between boyfriends and girlfriends, etc…But we are challenged to define love fully.

Pope Benedict mentions the ancient Greek definition of love: eros. The ancient Greeks believed in erotic love as a state of mind that “somehow (imposed) itself on human beings” and that gave a “certain foretaste of the Divine”. Benedict XVI points out that “the Greek Old testament uses…eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use (eros) at all.” In fact, in the New Testament, the Greek word used for love is usually “agape”, which appears even more frequently than “philia”- the “love of friendship”.

The Pope points out the Hebrew words used to describe love in the Song of Solomon: “dodim”, which is eventually replaced by “ahaba”. “Dodim” is the equivalent to “eros”, a searching, insecure love according to the encyclical. The ancient Greeks could be said to have insecurely searched for signs of the divine. This gives way to “ahaba”, which even sounds similar to “agape”. This is the ideal self-giving love. It is the love that God shows to us always. Although it wasn’t necessary that God created us, God willed our creation. We also have the gift to relate to God, and humans, uniquely among living beings on earth, also have free will. The act of creation and of sustenance of that creation, and of redemption of humankind from our misuse of God’s gifts entails supreme love. I find it phenomenal that humans are called to be stewards of this love.

Love at its fullest is a union of flesh and of spirit. Complete love is given of our whole selves, not of any particular part. Christ Incarnate was all God and all human. He gave us the great commandment, summarized from the Jewish Scripture: “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That’s the kind of love that is self-giving, that is most complete. Christ gave his life on the Cross so that we might be able to return to his side in heaven. Pray that we may in return come to love ourselves, our neighbour, and God in the same way, in a manner that is prepared to sacrifice selfish desires.




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