God is Love

(This Easter marks the 30th anniversary of my entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church, so I’'ll try to record a few memories and reflections of both the occasion and the time since.)

(I think this summarizes better what I used to have on two other web pages. They delve into it more here and here.)

Someone asked me recently what prompted me to become Catholic. After a few moments’ reflection, the thought that stuck out to me most strongly almost surprised me:
God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God.
— 1 John 4⋅16
That one, simple Bible verse seemed to explain it. Note what it says: not “God so loved the world…” (also true!), but “God is love” — and more than that; “he who abides in love abides in God.”

That’s… astonishing.

Other, closely related thoughts came to mind, as well:
  1. Her many sins have been forgiven, seeing that she has loved much. (Luke 7⋅47)
  2. Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. (Matthew 5⋅43-47)
  3. If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Matthew 7⋅21)
  4. [W]hat you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these [who did nothing for them] will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25⋅45-46)
The point is, I saw this principle embraced most fully in the Catholic Church.

Don’t get me wrong; I had traveled to Italy many times, and had known many Catholics and ex-Catholics. I read the news and was familiar with history. There are plenty of miscreants in the Catholic Church. They were one reason I had routinely turned away from the Catholic Church, despite feeling an attraction to Her.

But there are plenty of miscreants outside the Church, as well — quite a lot of them, in fact. Errare humanum est, and all that. No movement or group should be judged by its worst examples, but by its best, and when I considered the “best” Catholics, the ones I knew personally and admired, or the ones the Church Herself holds up as examples — i.e., “Saints” — I was impressed. They conformed to Christ’s teachings more than anyone else I knew.

After becoming Catholic, I noticed something about the language of Catholics. Embedded within it is an intimacy that most don’t seem to notice. For instance, before I became Catholic, I would hear and read about the Lord Jesus Christ — but in Catholic discourse I hear and read about our Lord Jesus Christ. It may seem like a small thing, but its effect is profound.

Within the Catholic Church, the idea of God’s love is a going concern. I’ve traveled the world quite a bit, heard homilies in multiple languages, and had priests from different countries as pastors in the United States. I’ve spent time in parishes, monasteries, convents, and seminaries. I’ve talked with Catholics all over. The common thread has always been: …and there is a lot of discussion to the effect of, “How do we put this into practice?”

The more I got into it, the more I found of this. The language of love suffuses Catholic spiritual writings. This holds up across the centuries: I have read works by St. Augustine, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John of the Cross, and St. Alphonsus Liguori that overflow with amazement, gratitude, and wonder at God’s love for us. Nor was it confined to mere words, either; the Catholic Church devotes an enormous amount of energy and resources to ministering to the poor — not merely the so-called “deserving” poor, but to all of them that it could. Aside from reading about it, I’d been there and seen much of it. Since becoming Catholic, I have participated in much of it: both organizational and one-on-one, even in the inner city.

Perhaps for this reaason, it didn’t surprise me the way it surprised so many that Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was titled,
Deus Caritas Est
(God is Love)
…or that Pope Francis places such an emphasis on this point himself, or that those who take exceptions to some of his gestures frequently take the same starting point.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13⋅11-13