Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. "If one says: 'I love God,' and hates his own brother, he is a liar. In
fact, whoever who does not love his own brother whom he sees, cannot love
God whom he does not see. This is the commandment we have from Him: He who
loves God, also loves his brother" (1 John 4, 20-21).
The theological virtue of charity, of which we spoke in the last
catechesis, is expressed in a double direction: toward God and toward one's
neighbor. In both one and the other, it is the fruit of the dynamism itself
of the life of the Trinity within us.
Charity, in fact, has its source in the Father, it is fully revealed in the
Easter of the crucified and resurrected Son, and infused in us by the Holy
Spirit. In it, God makes us participate in His own love.
If we really love with God's love, we will also love our brother as He
loves him. Here is the great novelty of Christianity: you cannot love God if
you don't love your brothers, creating with them an intimate and lasting
communion of love.
2. The teaching of Sacred Scripture in this respect is unequivocal. Love of
our neighbor was already recommended to the Israelites: 'Thou shalt not
seek revenge and hold rancor against the children of your people, but you
will love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19,18). If, at first, this precept
seems directed only to the Israelites, it is, however, intended in an ever
wider sense, even to include the foreigners who lived in their midst, in
the remembrance that Israel itself was a foreigner in the land of Egypt (Cf
Leviticus 19,34; Deuteronomy 10,19).
In the New Testament, this love is commanded in a clearly universal sense:
it implies an idea of neighbor that has no limits (Cf Luke 10, 29-37) and
includes even one's enemies (Cf Matthew 5, 43-47). It is important to note that
love of one's neighbor is seen as an imitation and prolongation of the
merciful goodness of the celestial Father who provides for the needs of all
and makes no distinctions of persons (Cf ivi, v. 45). This is also linked
to the love for God: the two commandments of love in fact are the synthesis
and summit of the Law and the Prophets (Cf Matthew 22, 40). Only the person who
practices both commandments is not far from the Kingdom of God, as Jesus
Himself emphasized, in response to a Scribe who had questioned Him (Cf Mark
3. Following this path, which joins the love of neighbor with that of God
and together to the life of God in us, it is easy to understand how love is
presented in the New Testament as a fruit of the Spirit, what is more, as
the first among many gifts listed by St. Paul in the Letter to the
Galatians: "Instead, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
benevolence, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-mastery" (Galatians 5, 22).
Theological tradition has always made a distinction between the theological
virtues, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, while, at the same time
conserving their correlation (Cf Catechism of the Catholic Church,
1830-1832). While the virtues are permanent qualities conferred on the
creature in view of the supernatural works he must accomplish, and the
gifts perfect the virtues, be these theological or moral, the fruits of the
Spirit are virtuous acts that the person does with ease, in a habitual way
and with delight (Cf St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 70 a. 1, ad 2).
These distinctions are not opposed to what Paul affirms when speaking in
the singular of the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, the Apostle wants to
point out that the fruit par excellence is divine charity itself that is
the soul of every virtuous act. Just as the sunlight is reflected in an
unlimited spectrum of colors, so charity is manifested in multiple fruits
of the Spirit.
4. In this sense, in the Letter to the Colossians it says: "Above all let
there be charity, which is the key to perfection" (3,14). The hymn to
charity in the first Letter to the Corinthians (Cf 1 Corinthians 13) celebrates
this primacy of charity over all the other gifts (Cf vv. 1-3), including
faith and hope (Cf v. 13). Of this [virtue] Paul affirms: "Charity will
have no end" (v. 8).
Love toward one's neighbor has a Christological connotation, because it
must be configured to the gift that Christ has made of his own life: "From
this we have known love: He gave His life for us; therefore, we must also
give our life for our brothers (1 John 3, 16). In so far as it is measured
by the love of Christ, it can be called a new commandment," which makes it
possible to recognize the true disciples: "I give you a new commandment:
that you love one another, as I have loved you, so should you also love one
another. From this all will know that you are My disciples, if you love one
another" (John 13, 34-35). The Christological meaning of love of one's
neighbor will shine in the second coming of Christ. In fact, and indeed
then, it will be seen that the measure of judgment of adherence to Christ
is precisely the daily and visible exercise of charity toward one's
neediest brothers: "I was hungry and you gave Me to eat ..." (Cf Matthew 25,
Only the one who lets himself be moved by his neighbor and by his poverty,
shows concretely his love for Jesus. To be closed and indifferent to the
"other" is to be closed to the Holy Spirit, to forget Christ and to deny
the universal love of the Father.