No generation passes without affording us some deeper insight into what it is to be human. Professors opine, poets and songwriters construe their craft, and politicians enact laws all to enlarge our experience of life, even if at the end of the day more mystery remains. Of course, the best (even if the most elusive!) theme within human experience is love. Just check the number of songs on your favorites list that muse and/or moan over love. According to the Beatles and their enchanted groupies, “love is all you need.” And even today everything, from our fairy tales to our government programs, has its way of responding to this fundamental orientation toward what is good. This movement toward what is good is always experienced at the heart of love.
“…everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7).
Christians really have been handed the “master key” when it comes to love. This verse tells us the truth about the Founder of our faith, Jesus, the Son of God. No less, it gives us hope that we too can open the door to the mystery of love—even the highest and best love—in virtue of our being intimately acquainted with its Author.
There are two things about this “master revelation” for us to appreciate today and every day of our lives: first, that Jesus shows us how love is meant to work. Second, He gives us a way to experience it for ourselves. If we pay attention to these two steps, we will not only know something that we all naturally yearn to know (i.e., how to be fulfilled in love), but we will in fact come to know “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars,” God Himself (Dante, Paradiso, XXXIII). Only by knowing the universal Source of love will our human desires find their place.
First, Jesus unveils the love that inspires and moves all other loves because He stands in closest relation to the Source of this love. To be “begotten by God and to know God” in the communion of His Love can first be said of Jesus Christ, who is by nature the Son of God and who has chosen to become man. Jesus was “in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:2) and has always been “one” with the Father in love (see Jn 17). Due to the communion He enjoys with God the Father as the Father’s only-begotten Son, Jesus is the only human being who has a natural claim to the inner life, love, and happiness of God. Yet Christ tells us that the one who sees Him sees the Father (Jn 14:9), and the whole point of His mission on earth was to extend what is a natural experience for Him to become our own supernatural experience of God.
This brings us to the second point: Jesus enables us to love within the very love of God. His prayer the night before He was handed over to death was that His disciples be united in the same love He enjoys with the Father: “I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (Jn 17:23). This desire of God in Christ became most visible when the next day Christ gave up His life on the Cross for the salvation of mankind (Jn 15:13). Three days after His death, He rose from the dead and gave His disciples the gift of His Holy Spirit, whom He had promised on that same night before He died (Jn 14:25-27; 20:19-22). The Holy Spirit, or “the Counselor,” would enable the disciples to remain in Jesus’ love. The dying Savior not only ransomed sinners who were trapped in their sins, but through His Holy Spirit He would also teach them how to live their lives according to a higher and wiser love. With God’s love active in their souls, they would be inclined toward communion, peace, and forgiveness in ways uniquely natural to God.
Jesus, then, shows and empowers us to live by the most sublime of human and divine inclinations. We might be tempted to think that love is fundamentally a self-oriented pursuit. No doubt, some experiences of human love today stray too far in this direction. But Jesus, who abides in a perfect union of love with the Father as the only-begotten Son, long ago deigned to become the “firstborn” of many brothers and sisters who would be made like Him through grace (Rom 8:29). The offer to live as Christ’s brother or sister is still available today, as it was two thousand years ago for the first Christians. Having become our brother as a man and having spent His whole life, to the very last breath, in our service, Jesus provides a sublime yet no less real picture of the human being fulfilled in love. Now living in the light of His glorious Resurrection and inspired by the gift of His Spirit, we are invited to reach our true completion in that same love—exercised for God as well as for our brothers and sisters.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)