Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. "If any one says, "I love God', and hates his brother, he is
a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen,
cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we
have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother
also" (1 Jn 4: 20-21).
The theological virtue of charity, of which we spoke in our last
catechesis, is expressed in two dimensions: love of God and love
of neighbour. In both these dimensions it is the fruit of the
dynamism of Trinitarian life within us.
Indeed, love has its source in the Father; it is fully revealed
in the Passover of the crucified and risen Son, and is infused
in us by the Holy Spirit. Through it God lets us share in his
If we truly love with the love of God we will also love our
brothers or sisters as God loves them.
This is the great newness of Christianity: one cannot love God
if one does not love one's brethren, creating a deep and lasting
communion of love with them.
2. In this regard, the teaching of Sacred Scripture is
unequivocal. The Israelites were already encouraged to love one
another: "You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge
against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your
neighbour as yourself" (Lv 19: 18). At first this commandment
seems restricted to the Israelites, but it nonetheless gradually
takes on an ever broader sense to include the strangers who
sojourn among them, in remembrance that Israel too was a
stranger in the land of Egypt (cf. Lv 19: 34; Dt 10: 19).
In the New Testament this love becomes a command in a clearly
universal sense: it presupposes a concept of neighbour that
knows no bounds (cf. Lk 10: 29-37) and is even extended to
enemies (cf. Mt 5: 43-47). It is important to note that love of
neighbour is seen as an imitation and extension of the merciful
goodness of the heavenly Father who provides for the needs of
all without distinction (cf. ibid., v. 45). However it remains
linked to love of God: indeed the two commandments of love are
the synthesis and epitome of the law and the prophets (cf. Mt
22: 40). Only those who fulfil both these commandments are close
to the kingdom of God, as Jesus himself stresses in answer to a
scribe who had questioned him (cf. Mk 12: 28-34.
3. Abiding by these guidelines which link love of neighbour with
love of God and both of these to God's life in us, we can easily
understand how love is presented in the New Testament as a fruit
of the Spirit, indeed, as the first of the many gifts listed by
St Paul in his Letter to the Galatians: "The fruit of the Spirit
is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5: 22).
Theological tradition distinguishes, while correlating them,
between the theological virtues, the gifts and the fruits of the
Holy Spirit (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn.
1830-1832). While the virtues are dispositions permanently
conferred upon human beings in view of the supernatural works
they must do, and the gifts perfect both the theological and the
moral virtues, the fruits of the Spirit are virtuous acts which
the person accomplishes with ease, habitually and with delight
(cf. St Thomas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 70 a. 1, ad 2). These
distinctions are not contrary to what Paul says, speaking in the
singular of the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, the Apostle wishes
to point out that the fruit par excellence is the same divine
charity which is at the heart of every virtuous act. Just as
sunlight is expressed in a limitless range of colours, so love
is manifest in the multiple fruits of the Spirit.
4. In this regard, it says in the Letter to the Colossians:
"Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in
perfect harmony" (3: 14). The hymn to love contained in the
First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor 13) celebrates this
primacy of love over all the other gifts (cf. vv. 1-3), and even
over faith and hope (cf. v. 13). The Apostle Paul says of it:
"Love never ends" (v. 8).
Love of neighbour has a Christological connotation, since it
must conform to Christ's gift of his own life: "By this we know
love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay
down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jn 3: 16). Insofar as it is
measured by Christ's love, it can be called a "new commandment"
by which the true disciples may be recognized: "A new
commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I
have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men
will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one
another" (Jn 13: 34-35). The Christological meaning of love of
neighbour will shine forth at the second coming of Christ.
Indeed at that very moment, it will be seen that the measure by
which to judge adherence to Christ is precisely the daily
demonstration of love for our neediest brothers and sisters: "I
was hungry and you gave me food ..." (cf. Mt 25: 31-46).
Only those who are involved with their neighbour and his needs
concretely show their love for Jesus. Being closed and
indifferent to the "other" means being closed to the Holy
Spirit, forgetting Christ and denying the Father's universal