Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for February 12, 2006

On January 25th, Pope Benedict XVI published his first encyclical, entitled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). Our Holy Father has given us a marvelous meditation on the meaning of love, human and divine, as the foundation of the Christian life. In many ways, Pope Benedict is re-focusing our attention on Jesus Christ at the beginning of his pontificate; he gives us the opportunity to reflect upon God’s love for each of us, our love of God in return, and our love for one another.

The encyclical is divided into two parts: the first part, the pope tells us, is “speculative” or a theological investigation of the truth about God’s love and its link to human love; the second part is a concrete application, examining the way in which the Church (and individual Christians) exercises the commandment of love of neighbor. I will examine the first part of the encyclical this week.

Pope Benedict begins his analysis of love by reminding us that the word “love” itself means many different things in our culture. “Are all these forms of love basically one,” he asks, “or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?” (2). To explain the authentic meaning of love, he then discusses the difference between two Greek words for love: eros and agape. Initially, the Pope defines eros as “a term to indicate ‘worldly’ love,” and agape as “referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith.” Nevertheless, he says, they cannot be completely separated: “The more the two [kinds of love], in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized” (7). This is to say that eros, the “ascending” and self-seeking love, is strengthened by agape and seeks the happiness of the other. “Anyone who wishes to give love,” Pope Benedict says,” must also receive love as a gift.” From whom do we receive this gift? “Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God” (7).

Amazingly, “God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation – the Logos, primordial reason – is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape” (10). Such love, the pope tells us, is most visible – most understandable – as we contemplate the pierced side of Christ: “It is from there that our definition of love must begin” (12).

The Eucharist draws us into Christ’s sacrifice; it is the gift of His enduring presence, and it also brings us into union with all to whom Christ gives Himself: “Communion draws me out of myself towards Him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. … Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to Himself” (14). Reminding us of this truth, Pope Benedict then demonstrates how this love we have received from God in the Eucharist – and which we have returned to Him – overflows into our authentic love of neighbor.

He says: “Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints – consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, and they form a single commandment” (18). Next week: the second half of the encyclical which sees the Church’s charitable activity as a manifestation of Trinitarian love.