“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” — 1 John 4:8
The First Reading for today’s Mass is from the First Epistle of St. John and one of the most insightful and beautiful readings in the Bible. It is also very hard for me to live by as I am frequently stuck in a “transactional mentality” of only being nice to those who are nice to me or who can help me. I rarely consider others beyond my small circle but much truly love the stranger or those who do harm to me.
Today’s reflection from Living Space is a beautiful summary of agapé love and something for me to ponder the remainder of the Christmas Season and into Ordinary Time:
What, then, do we mean by love in our reading today? C S Lewis, the Christian writer, once wrote a book called The Four Loves. There he describes four kinds of love, all of which should be part of Christian living. One of these is agape, the form of love that 1 John is talking about. I would like to offer a definition of agape which may be helpful. It is: “a passionate desire for the well-being of the other”.
This is the love that God unconditionally extends to all his creatures without exception. It is the love that each of us, too, is to extend to every one of our brothers and sisters – again, without a single exception. It is an outreaching love; it is an unconditional love; it does not depend on mood, liking or disliking. It is based purely and simply on the need and on the good of the other. It may or may not be expressed sexually but it is definitely not the love that most of the pop songs are talking about.
No matter what we do, no matter how evil or vicious we are, God’s love for us remains unchanging and unchangeable. “Love it was that made us and Love it was that saved us…” as the hymn says. The reason is simple: ‘God IS love’. Love enters into his very being. God cannot not love – if he did, he would no longer be God.
It is strange to say (and for some it may be shocking) but God loves the most depraved person we could imagine and Our Lady or one of the saints in exactly the same way. He cannot do otherwise. Is there no difference then? The difference between Our lady and the evil person is not in God’s love for them but in their response to the love offered to them. One person has a closed heart; Our Lady from the moment of the Annunciation gave an unconditional ‘Yes’ which she never withdrew.
All our loving then is simply an opening of our heart, a return of the love that God has first shown us. When we reveal ourselves as loving persons it is because God’s love is working in us and through us. The sign that we are loving him is also that we are filled with love ourselves, love which originally came from him.
As someone once said, God’s love is like electricity. God’s love is only in us when it is passing through us. It can never stop with ourselves. When we keep that love to ourselves, it dies.
God’s love is available in abundance to anyone who opens their heart to him. May I be able to do that. But that love, too, must continue to flow out beyond me to everyone I meet. It is impossible to separate God’s love for me and my love for others. We cannot have one without the other.
See also Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) by Pope Benedict XVI