Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbour which the First Letter of John speaks of with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a “commandment” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor ).
Deus Caritas Est 18
Reflection – The Pope here has been exploring the question of how love can be ‘commanded’ – how is it possible that a feeling in the depths of one’s heart can be commanded by an external law? We know it is so: ‘a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John ). But how are we to obey this commandment?
The answer he gives in this passage is so perfect, but expressed so simply and briefly, that we can miss it. And it really penetrates to the very heart of the Christian faith, to what our deepest understanding is of this strange religion God has inducted us into, this strange Way that God has opened for humanity.
Essentially, the Law of the Christian is not a set of rules, a list of prohibitions, a bunch of dos and don’ts. These exist, but they are not our law.
Our law is Jesus Christ. And the obedience to this law is this deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ that He calls each of us to enter. We cannot simply draw up a list of all the things Jesus tells us to do, and the somewhat shorter list of things he tells us not to do, and then say ‘This is our Christian Torah! Here’s the Law of the Gospel’.
Well, we could do it, but it would be ridiculous and impossible and we would end up looking very stupid. Not recommended.
What we are called to on every page of the Gospel is not to simply substitute a bunch of new commandments for the old ones of Moses, but to plunge into a depth of relationship with Jesus that is truly transformative. To turn to Him each day and cry out, “Lord, that I may love as you love! That I may love as you love! Have mercy on me, Jesus! Increase my love!” That’s the law of the Christian.
And out of this constant transforming encounter, which is not a once and for all affair, but must be renewed daily, and indeed moment by moment if we’re really going to do it, well then of course we will not fornicate, or seek revenge, or hate. Of course we will go the extra mile, be indifferent to possessions, share generously with the poor. Of course we will listen to the Church and allow our minds and hearts to be formed by its teachings. Of course we will pray constantly and fast and give alms.
Not because there is some list of rules, and a big man with a whip threatening us, or eternal fires of Hell threatening us. No! We will ‘of course’ do all this because Christ is coming to us moment by moment and changing our hearts so that we want to do it, even when we ‘don’t want’ to do it!
Our Law is Jesus, this Law is given to us by the Father, and is being promulgated in our hearts by the Holy Spirit moment by moment, who gives us the power to live it as He teaches it to us. And this is the very substance and essence of Christian life in the world.Pretty good religion we got, eh?