Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Conversion, which we treated in the previous catecheses, is
aimed at fulfilling the commandment of love. In this year
dedicated to God the Father, it is particularly appropriate to
emphasize the theological virtue of charity, as indicated in the
Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente (cf. n. 50).
The Apostle John urges us: "Beloved, let us love one another;
for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows
God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love" (1
Jn 4: 7-8).
While these sublime words reveal to us the very essence of God
as a mystery of infinite charity, they also lay the basis for
the Christian moral life, which is summed up in the commandment
The human person is called to love God with total commitment and
to relate to his brothers and sisters with a loving attitude
inspired by God's own love. Conversion means being converted to
In the Old Testament the inner dynamics of this commandment can
already be seen in the covenant relationship established by God
with Israel: on the one hand, there is the initiative of God's
love, and, on the other, the response of love that he expects
from Israel. This is how, for example, the divine initiative is
presented in the Book of Deuteronomy: "It was not because you
were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his
love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all
peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you" (Dt 7: 7-8). The
basic commandment that directs Israel's entire religious life
corresponds to this preferential, totally gratuitous love: "You
shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your might" (ibid., 6: 5).
2. The loving God is a God who is not remote, but intervenes in
history. When he reveals his name to Moses, he does so to assure
him of his loving assistance in the saving event of the Exodus,
an assistance which will last for ever (cf. Ex 3: 15). Through
the prophets' words, he would continually remind his people of
this act of love. We read, for example, in Jeremiah: "Thus says
the Lord: "The people who survived the sword found grace in the
wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to
him from afar. I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you'" (Jer 31:
It is a love which takes on tones of immense tenderness (cf. Hos
11: 8f.; Jer 31: 20) and normally uses the image of a father,
but sometimes is also expressed in a spousal metaphor: "I will
betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in
righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy" (Hos
2: 19; cf. vv. 18-25).
Even after seeing his people's repeated unfaithfulness to the
covenant, this God is still willing to offer his love, creating
in man a new heart that enables him to accept the law he is
given without reserve, as we read in the prophet Jeremiah: "I
will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their
hearts" (Jer 31: 33). Likewise in Ezekiel we read: "A new heart
I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I
will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a
heart of flesh" (Ez 36: 26).
3. In the New Testament this dynamic of love is centred on
Jesus, the Father's beloved Son (cf. Jn 3: 35; 5: 20; 10: 17),
who reveals himself through him. Men and women share in this
love by knowing the Son, that is, by accepting his teaching and
his work of redemption.
We can only come to the Father's love by imitating the Son in
his keeping of the Father's commandments: "As the Father has
loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my
commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my
Father's commandments and abide in his love" (ibid., 15: 9-10).
In this way we also come to share in the Son's knowledge of the
Father: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does
not know what his master is doing; but I have called you
friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made
known to you" (ibid., v. 15).
4. Love enables us to enter fully into the filial life of Jesus,
making us sons in the Son: "See what love the Father has given
us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The
reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know
him" (1 Jn 3: 1). Love transforms life and enlightens our
knowledge of God to the point that it reaches that perfect
knowledge of which St Paul speaks: "Now I know in part; then I
shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood" (1
Cor 13: 12).
It is necessary to stress the relationship between knowledge and
love. The inner conversion which Christianity offers is a
genuine experience of God, in the sense indicated by Jesus in
his priestly prayer at the Last Supper: "This is eternal life,
that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you
have sent" (Jn 17: 3). Knowledge of God, of course, also has an
intellectual dimension (cf. Rom 1: 19-20), but the living
experience of the Father and the Son occurs through love, that
is, in the last analysis, in the Holy Spirit, because "God's
love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit"
(Rom 5: 5).
The Paraclete is the One through whom we experience God's
fatherly love. Moreover, the most comforting effect of his
presence in us is precisely the certainty that this eternal and
boundless love with which God loved us first will never abandon
us: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? ... For I am
sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor
principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor
powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in
Christ Jesus our Lord" (ibid., 8: 35, 38-39). The new heart,
which loves and knows, beats in harmony with God who loves with
an everlasting love.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father
I gladly welcome the students of the Pontifical North American
College who tomorrow will be ordained to the diaconate; and the
new seminarians of the Venerable English College. I extend a
special greeting to the pilgrims from Japan who will take back
to their country a relic of St Francis Xavier, who preached the
Gospel there four and a half centuries ago.
May the example of his holiness continue to inspire the
Christian community today. I also greet the Japanese television
company, NHK, which is making a documentary to present the Great
Jubilee to Japanese audiences.
Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially
those from England, Ireland, Denmark, India, Australia, Japan,
Korea and the United States of America, I invoke the abundant
blessings of almighty God.