The beauty of God’s love
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
How beautiful is the love of God! God’s love is the source of all of creation. God literally loves us into existence, and his love keeps us in existence at every moment. Because of God’s love, we too can love. Only “in him” do we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). All that is good and noble in our human nature reflects God’s love. We experience all that is good, true, and beautiful in this life as a reflection of God’s loving goodness, truth and beauty, and as a promise of the life to come. Nothing makes us feel better than to know deeply that we are loved, which we know best in the heart of our family and in the holy sacraments.
How beautiful, indeed, is the love of God!
In this sense, our faith is a romance. God is wooing our heart, so that we will love him in return. By so many means, in the world and in the church, God reveals his infinite love. He wants our love, not because it adds anything to him, who is already infinitely perfect, but because it adds to us. It is for our own good that we love him – the good, precisely, of fulfilling the purpose for which we were created (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1). God made us to love Him.
It is the nature of love to want to be shared and God’s love, infinite and perfect, wants to be shared so much that it first creates everything, and then becomes incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ. “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).
So then, what does it look like when we love God in return?
First, we experience contrition for our sins and the desire to change our way of life. We desire to be closer to God by living more according to his will. We choose more and more to obey the Ten Commandments, and we seek more and more to follow and experience the Beatitudes. We grow in holiness as we “put on Christ” ever more deeply.
Second, because we love God, we want to spend time with him. We spend time with God in prayer, in the scriptures, and in the sacraments and liturgies of the church. If we have not been baptized, we ask to be. Feeling contrition, we go to confession. Feeling desire for union with God, we go to holy Mass to receive him in the most Blessed Sacrament. We make time in our busy schedules for reading the word of God and for praying every day.
Third, then, the love of God cannot be separated from believing and living the “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith” (see CCC #160-65). And fourth, if we love God, we will also love our neighbor. Christ himself has told us, “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind... and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39). And to those who show by their fruits that their love is not genuine, he will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me!” (Mt 7:23).
Genuine love for our neighbor looks like the four cardinal virtues: justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude (see CCC #1805-9). In justice, we give our neighbor what is due, always tempering severity with mercy. This giving is free and generous, a movement of divine charity in us. It flows into the “preferential option for the poor,” which we should undertake ourselves, personally, not first through taxation and government programs.
This tempering mercy is patient and forgiving, but never the world’s false mercy of condoning evil, or of pretending that wrong actions have no consequences.
In prudence, we correctly identify what is good and evil, and arrange our lives, both privately and socially (including civil and criminal law), to promote what is good, and restrict and punish what is evil. In temperance, we learn and practice self-control, the root of many important social virtues. In fortitude, we willingly “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2), making sacrifices for other people’s good, and especially acting nobly and virtuously in public to defend other people’s good. All of this expresses so profoundly the depths of our Catholic faith, and the reality of hope and love for others, in the image of Jesus Christ.
Finally, we remember that, while God’s love is perfect, and the ideal of love that we aspire to in response is also perfect, nevertheless in this life, we do not love perfectly. We are weak and sinful, even when we try our best to love God and neighbor as Christ wants. Knowing our own weakness, we turn back again and again to God’s perfect mercy in the holy sacraments, and we should be very slow to condemn another for the same weakness, not condoning evil actions but showing the same mercy for which we also beseech God.
May our Lord Jesus Christ always fill your life with great mercy and set your heart aflame with his perfect love!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
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