Wednesday, March 7, 2018

God Has "Loved Us First"

One text that I find continually enriching is Pope Benedict XVI's beautiful and profound first encyclical Deus Caritas Est. For me, the year 2006 was not that long ago. In historical terms, it's hardly a blink.

This is still very much a "contemporary" document, as is the whole great contribution of Pope Benedict to the vision of the Church.

The excerpts cited here are pertinent to the themes of forgiveness and fraternal charity that I find myself meditating on in a particular way this Lenten season. It should go without saying that they also show the clear continuity between Benedict and Pope Francis, a continuity which is simply the Gospel witness that is so essential for us to receive and to share with others. It is the Gospel of the God who loves us, and whose love gives us the power to live as his children, to love him, to love one another, and to love every human person created in his image.
"The Lord...encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church's Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives.
"He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has 'loved us first,' love can also blossom as a response within us."
As this experience of God's love shapes our hearts, "love of neighbor is...shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know.
"This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern."
Thus "seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbor which 1 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 neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me."
From Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 17, 18