Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
God is love. If we want to know what love is, and how we are to love Him and love others, we have to know who God is and how He loves us.
In Jesus’ time there were more than 600 laws that an observant Jew was expected to follow. Every law was deemed important, but scholars liked to debate which law or laws was the most important. Naturally some sought to get Jesus’ take on this question. As always, Jesus spoke directly to the heart of the matter:
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
The second is like it: these are not really two commandments but one. To love the Father properly, you must love His children.
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)
Likewise, to love God’s children fully, you must love the Father. The modern world wants us to believe that religious beliefs are just a personal matter, and what really counts is how good of a person you are. The truth is that our love for God and love for our neighbor are inseparable. If we do not love God, if we are rejecting Him who is love and from whom all love flows, then our love for our neighbor will always be incomplete, partial, fundamentally lacking.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. (1 John 4:7-9)
If we want to love God, we have to know who He is and how He wants us to live. And He has revealed this to us by sending his Son, Jesus. Only by knowing, trusting and following Jesus can we love God fully.
Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:8-10)
Jesus did not presume that we knew how to love. Through His death and resurrection He saved us from our sins. He also defined love for us. This is why He gave us a new commandment in addition to the great commandment, so we would know what love is.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
Saint Thomas Aquinas defined love as willing the good of another person. Jesus raised this love to its ultimate height on the cross. Despite all the pain and suffering we have caused Him, He took on the pain and humiliation of His Passion so that we would not die in our sins, but could one day be raised from the dead and spend eternity with Him in Heaven.
And not only through His Passion did he demonstrate His love. He humbled Himself profoundly be coming down from Heaven and becoming a helpless child, laid in a manger. He toiled quietly in Nazareth for years, obedient to His parents. In His ministry He is always at the service of others: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching the ignorant, forgiving sins. Today He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist because He wants to unite His Sacred Heart with ours, sinners though we are. He is always there for us. His love never fails.
If this is how He loves us, this is how He calls us to love others. And we cannot love others in truth apart from Him. Love cannot be opposed to His will. We need to understand His words and live faithfully His commands to love as He loved. As Jesus trusted completely in His Father, as He emptied Himself for our sake on the cross, let us trust completely in Him, let us empty ourselves for Him.
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. (1 John 4:10-12)