Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In ancient Israel the fundamental commandment to love God was
part of daily prayer: "The Lord our God is one Lord; and you
shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I
command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall
teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them
when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and
when you lie down, and when you rise" (Dt 6: 4-7).
The basis of this requirement to love God totally is the love
that God himself has for man. He waits for a true response of
love from the people he loves with the fondest love. He is a
jealous God (cf. Ex 20: 5), who cannot tolerate the idolatry
which constantly tempts his people. "You shall have no other
gods before me" (ibid., v. 3).
Israel gradually understood that, in addition to this
relationship of profound respect and exclusive worship, its
attitude to the Lord had to be filial or even nuptial. The Song
of Songs should be understood and interpreted in this sense,
transfiguring the beauty of human love into the spousal dialogue
between God and his people.
The Book of Deuteronomy recalls two essential characteristics of
this love. The first is that man would never be capable of it,
if God did not give him strength through "circumcision of the
heart" (cf. Dt 30: 6), which frees it from every attachment to
sin. The other is that this love, far from being reduced to
sentiment, is concretely expressed by "walking in the ways" of
God and by keeping "his commandments and his statutes and his
ordinances" (ibid., v. 16). This is the condition for "life and
good", while turning the heart to other gods leads to "death and
evil" (ibid., v. 15).
2. The commandment in Deuteronomy remains unchanged in the
teaching of Jesus, who describes it as "the great and first
commandment", closely relating it to love of neighbour (cf. Mt
22: 34-40). By expressing this commandment in the same terms as
the Old Testament, Jesus shows that on this point Revelation had
already reached its apex.
At the same time, the meaning of this commandment achieves its
fullness precisely in Jesus' own person. In fact, it is in him
that man's love for God reaches its greatest intensity. From now
on, loving God with all our heart, with all our mind and with
all our strength means loving that God who revealed himself in
Christ and loving him by sharing in the very love of Christ
"poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been
given to us" (Rom 5: 5).
3. Charity is the essence of the new "commandment" that Jesus
taught. In fact, it is the soul of all the commandments, whose
observance is further confirmed and indeed becomes a clear proof
of one's love for God: "For this is the love of God, that we
keep his commandments" (1 Jn 5: 3). This love, which is also
love for Jesus, is the condition for being loved by the Father:
"He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves
me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will
love him and manifest myself to him" (Jn 14: 21).
Love for God, made possible by the gift of the Spirit, is
therefore based on the mediation of Jesus, as he himself says in
his priestly prayer: "I made known to them your name, and I will
make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be
in them, and I in them" (Jn 17: 26).
This mediation becomes concrete especially in the gift he made
of his life, a gift which, on the one hand, testifies to the
greatest love and, on the other, demands the observance of what
Jesus commands: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man
lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do
what I command you" (Jn 15: 13-14).
Christian charity draws from this source of love, which is
Jesus, the Son of God offered for us. The ability to love as God
loves is offered to every Christian as a fruit of the paschal
mystery of his Death and Resurrection.
4. The Church has expressed this sublime reality by teaching
that charity is a theological virtue, which means a virtue that
refers directly to God and enables human creatures to enter the
circuit of Trinitarian love. Indeed, God the Father loves us as
he loves Christ, seeing his image in us. This image is painted
in us, so to speak, by the Spirit, who, like an "iconographer",
accomplishes it over time.
Again, it is the Holy Spirit who draws the basic traits of the
Christian response in our inmost depths. The dynamism of love
for God thus flows from a sort of "connaturality" brought about
by the Holy Spirit who "divinizes" us, in the language of the
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, charity shapes the moral
activity of the Christian; it directs and strengthens all the
other virtues, which build up the new man within us. As the
Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The practice of all the
virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which "binds
everything together in perfect harmony' (Col 3: 14); it is the
form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among
themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian
practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to
love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine
love" (n. 1827). As Christians, we are always called to love.