Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In Ancient Israel the fundamental commandment of love for God was
inserted into their daily prayer: "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God,
the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all
your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to
heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your
children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at
At the root of this command to love God in a total way we find the love
which God Himself bears for humanity. He awaits a true and proper
response of love from the people he loves with a preferential love. He
is a jealous God (cf. Ex 20:5), who cannot tolerate idolatry, to which
his people are continually tempted. Hence the commandment: "You shall
have no other gods before Me" (Ibid., v. 3).
Israel continually grows in the understanding that beyond this
relationship of profound respect and exclusive adoration, they must have
a childlike and even nuptial attitude towards the Lord. The Song of
Songs is intended and read as such, transfiguring the beauty of human
love in the spousal dialogue between God and His people.
The Book of Deuteronomy recalls two essential characteristics of this
love. The first is that man would never be worthy of this love, if God
did not give him the strength, through "circumcision of the heart" (cf.
Dt 30:6), to rid the heart of every attachment to sin. The other
characteristic is that, far from being mere feeling, this love is a
concrete "walking in the ways" of God, and observing "his commandments,
decrees and ordinances" (Ibid., v.16).
2. The precept of Deuteronomy returns unaltered in the teaching of
Jesus, Who defines it as "the greatest and first of the commandments,"
strictly uniting it to the love of neighbor (cf Mt 22:34-40).
Reproposing the precept in the same terms as the Old Testament, Jesus
shows that on this point revelation has already reached its apex.
At the same time, precisely in the person of Jesus, the sense of this
commandment assumes its fullness. In him, in fact, the maximum intensity
of man's love for God is realized. From now on, to love God with all my
heart, all my soul and all my strength means to love this God who is
revealed in Christ, and to love Him with Christ's love, infused in us
"through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).
3. Love constitutes the essence of the new "commandment" taught by
Jesus. It is in effect the soul of all commandments, the observance of
which confirms and even becomes the clear demonstration of love for God:
"For the love of God is this, that we obey His commandments" (1 John 5:3).
This love, which is complete love for Jesus, represents the condition
for being loved by the Father: "Whoever has My commandments and observes
them is the one who loves Me. And whoever loves Me will be loved by My
Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him" (John 14:21).
Love for God, made possible by the gift of the Spirit, is founded on the
mediation of Jesus, as he Himself affirmed in His priestly prayer: "I
made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love
with which you loved Me may be in them and I in them" (John 17:26). This
mediation is made concrete above all in the gift that he made of His
life, the gift that gave the greatest love a sweeping testimony, by
requiring from others the observance of what Jesus commands: "No one has
greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You
are My friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:13-14).
Christian love draws from this wellspring of love, which is Jesus, the
Son of God offered for us. The capacity to love as God loves is offered
to every Christian as the fruit of the paschal mystery of the death and
4. The Church has expressed this sublime reality by teaching that love
is a theological virtue. It is worthy of being called a virtue directly
referring to God, and allows the human creature to enter into the
circuit of Trinitarian love. In fact, God the Father loves us as He
loves Christ, seeing in us His image. This image is, so to speak,
painted in us by the Spirit, Who like an "iconographer" accomplishes it
It is also always the Holy Spirit Who designs the fundamental lines of
the Christian response in the depths of our person. The dynamism of love
for God springs forth as such from a sort of "connaturality"
accomplished by the Holy Spirit Who, according to traditional Eastern
language, "divinizes" us.
In the strength of the Holy Spirit, love inspires the moral action of
the Christian, and directs and reinforces all the other virtues, which
build in us the structure of the new man. As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church says, "the exercise of all the virtues is animated and
inspired by love. This is the 'chain of perfection' (Col 3:14); it is
the form of the virtues; it articulates and coordinates them; it is the
source and end of their Christian practice. Love guarantees and purifies
our human capacity to love. It elevates to the supernatural perfection
of divine love" (N. 1827). As Christians, we are always those called to