What follows is an excerpt from Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI’s last Lenten message, completed in October of 2012; I wonder, as he penned these words on faith and love, whether he was yet contemplating that fateful decision in the beginning of that very Lent of 2013 to resign the papacy, a Rubicon that has had, to understate the case, momentous consequences.
On that note, as I read over the Gospel this morning, that the story in John’s eighth chapter signifies that transition from the Old to the New Covenant, with ‘death by stoning’, now replaced by ‘forgiveness by love’, should such forgiveness be sought with an open and good heart. Mercy given must also be mercy received. It seems ironic that just as Pope Francis offered an olive branch, of sorts, to Muslims, the monarchy of Brunei was bringing back the savagery of Sharia law, with, yes, death by stoning for, amongst other things, various sexual malfeasances, being ‘caught in adultery’ being one of them.
The ‘religion of peace’ seems to be returning to its atavistic origins.
But, anon, let us now turn to the Holy Father’s reflection on love:
“Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! … Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working” (ibid., 39). All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing mark of Christians is precisely “love grounded in and shaped by faith” (Deus Caritas Est, ibid., 7).
- Charity as life in faith
The entire Christian life is a response to God’s love. The first response is precisely faith as the acceptance, filled with wonder and gratitude, of the unprecedented divine initiative that precedes us and summons us. And the “yes” of faith marks the beginning of a radiant story of friendship with the Lord, which fills and gives full meaning to our whole life. But it is not enough for God that we simply accept his gratuitous love. Not only does he love us, but he wants to draw us to himself, to transform us in such a profound way as to bring us to say with Saint Paul: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (cf. Gal 2:20).
When we make room for the love of God, then we become like him, sharing in his own charity. If we open ourselves to his love, we allow him to live in us and to bring us to love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become truly “active through love” (Gal 5:6); only then does he abide in us (cf. 1 Jn 4:12).