Deus Caritas Est
6th Sunday of Easter B

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

God is love. This is the title of the first encyclical letter written by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2005. It was inspired by the readings this Sunday from the first letter of John (1 Jn. 4) and the Johannine Gospel ( Jn. 15).

Action Starter: How can you show God’s love?

Pope Benedict XVI explains two kinds of love. There is the natural human drive called eros. It is the love that seeks union with another person, with its expectation of mutual love and happiness. It is referred to as ascending love. One goes up to the heights of passion, so to speak. On the other hand, there is agape or caritas. It is the love that seeks to sacrifice self for the sake of another, otherwise called oblative love or descending love. One gives up self, or descends for the sake of the beloved. In the words of Pope Benedict:

Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated… Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. (no. 7)

Clearly, one who dares to love must also be open to receive the gift of love, especially from its source who is God Himself. Since God is love, and His love is infinite, one who is connected with God has therefore a constant and unending source of the energy called love. This is the secret of the saints. Those who experienced love in its instinctive state of eros may feel a need to go farther forward to that state called caritas-agape. Thus, St. Augustine who sought love in many ways and many places, felt drawn to a more perfect kind of love, “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” They who experienced this unconditional love of God even when they were yet sinners, were the ones most driven to do something to impart this great love of God. As St. Paul says, “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor. 5:14).

Thus, Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a French military officer who once lived a life in pursuit of pleasure, decided upon his conversion and ordination to the priesthood, to dedicate his life as a poor hermit among the tribes in the middle of the Sahara desert. From an aristocratic background, he chose to live a simple and humble life. He was the only Christian living among the Muslim Tuaregs who treated him as a brother. In 1909 he wrote, “ My apostolate must be the apostolate of goodness.”

The same experience of being loved unconditionally inspired former slave trader-turned-minister, John Newton to write the famous Protestant hymn, Amazing Grace with its haunting words. “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

God is love. God placed this drive to love in our hearts that we may be led to Him. One who truly loves eventually gets drawn to the Source of love Himself. Eros can lead to a purer kind of love called agape-caritas.