John’s teaching on love is an invitation, but also unsettling in its demands, Pope says

John’s teaching on love is an invitation, but also unsettling in its demands, Pope says

.- Pope Benedict returned to the Vatican briefly today, from his summer residence at Castelgandolfo, in order to conduct his weekly general audience.  During the course of his address to those gathered in the Paul VI auditorium, the Pope discussed the great works of John the Evangelist, works which, he said, invite us to love but also unsettle us.

The Pope told the gathered crowd that there is one characteristic topic that emerges from the writings of John - that of love.  

Benedict said that it was no accident that he began his first encyclical with words from one of John’s letters, “God is love; those who dwell in love dwell in God and God in them (1 John 4,16).”  The Pope said that it is difficult to find such a text in other religions and therefore, “such an expression brings us head-on with a fact particular to Christianity.”

The Holy Father said that there are three points of consideration to develop an understanding of John’s discussion of the profound reality that “God is love.”

Benedict first noted that John’s declaration that “God is love” comes in similar form to other declarations that “God is Spirit” (Jn 4,24) and “God is light” (Jn 1,5).  

“And note well,” the Pope said, “the assertion does not simply come that ‘God loves’ or even less that ‘love is God!’ In other words, John does not limit himself to describing a divine action, but proceeds to the roots.”  

Moreover, he said, the declaration “God is Love” is not the attribution of a single divine quality to a generic and impersonal love.  Rather John is, “turning directly to God, to define His nature with the infinite dimension of love. By so doing John wants to say that the constitutional essence of God is love and therefore all activity of God is born from love and is imprinted with love.”

Understanding John’s definition that ‘God is love’ must be taken a step further, the Pontiff said, for we know that God demonstrated His love by coming into the world and not simply by telling us verbally but by paying the price of love in first person.  The Pope pointed out the words of John, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (Jn 3,16).”  

Jesus, John tells us, loved us totally and, “to the end.”  “In virtue of this total and oblative love we are radically redeemed from sin,” the Pope said.

The third dynamic of love laid out by John, the Holy Father said, is that mankind is called to move from the role of a recipient of the great and overwhelming love which God is, “to the engagement of an active answer.”  

The answer humans are called to act out comes in the form of a “new commandment” from Jesus, “Love one another. I have loved you, so you also should love one another (Jn 13,34)."   

Pope Benedict said that the Old Testament, as well as the other Gospels, contain an idea of loving “as yourself.”  But, the innovation found in John is Jesus’ statement to love as He has loved.  “And it is in this way that love becomes truly Christian: in the sense that it must be directed towards all with out distinction, above all in so much as it reaches finally to extreme consequences, having no other measure but that it is without measure.”

“Those words of Jesus, ‘as I have loved you,’ invite us and at the same time unsettle us; they are a Christological goal that can seem unattainable, but at the same time they are a stimulus.”

The Pope concluded his address with words from the spiritual work, Imitation of Christ: “The noble love of Jesus spurs to great deeds and excites longing for that which is more perfect. Love tends upward; it will not be held down by anything low. Love wishes to be free and estranged from all worldly affections…for love is born of God and cannot rest except in God, Who is above all created things.  One who is in love flies, runs, and rejoices; he is free, not bound. He gives all for all and possesses all in all, because he rests in the one sovereign Good, Who is above all things, and from Whom every good flows and proceeds.”

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