VATICAN CITY—God offers humans the ability to share in divinity by loving as he does, said Pope John Paul II.
“The ability to love as God loves is offered to every Christian as the fruit of the paschal mystery of death and resurrection,” the Pope told 16,000 pilgrims gathered under autumn sunshine in St. Peter's Square for the weekly general audience.
This type of love, called charity, is possible through a sharing in God's nature, or a “divinization,” brought about by the Holy Spirit, the Pope said Oct. 13.
Sounding hoarse but speaking in a strong voice, the Pope said charity “constitutes the essence of the new ‘commandment’ taught by Jesus.
“Charity animates Christian moral activity, orients and strengthens all the other virtues, which build in us the structure of the new man.”
In the Old Testament, the fundamental commandment to love God “with one's whole heart, whole soul and whole strength” began as a response due God's love for his people.
“Progressively, Israel understood that beyond this relationship of profound respect and exclusive adoration,” it had to move toward a more personal recognition of God as Father and even spouse.
“He awaits a true and proper response of love from the people he loves with a preferential love. He is a jealous God, who cannot tolerate idolatry, to which his people are continually tempted.
“Hence the commandment: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’”
This love has two essential characteristics: Humans would have been unable to love in this way if God had not given them the power; and this love, “far from being reduced to a feeling, is expressed in walking God's paths, in observing his commands.”
Jesus Christ redefined the command to love God as the “greatest and first of all commandments,” and closely associated it with love of neighbor.
“In the person of Jesus himself, the meaning of this commandment assumes its fullness. In fact, the maximum intensity of man's love for God is realized in him.
“From now on, to love God with all my heart, all my soul and all my strength means to love this God who is revealed in Christ, and to love him with Christ's love, infused in us ‘through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’”
Love for God, “is thus founded on Christ's mediation,” particularly shown in his death for us.
Christian charity finds its source in Christ's act of love.
The Church has defined charity as a “theological virtue, meaning a virtue which is referred directly to God and lets human creatures enter into the circuit” of love between the three persons of the Trinity.
“God the Father loves us as he loves Christ, seeing in us [Christ's] image.” This image is “painted in us, so to speak, by the Holy Spirit, like an iconographer.
“It is always the Holy Spirit who sketches within the intimacy of our person even the fundamental lines of the Christian response” to God's love.
“In this way, the dynamism of love for God springs” from a sharing in God's nature, which “divinizes us.”
John Paul concluded the audience by asking all to join in prayer to Our Lady of Fatima, to whom the Holy Father is especially devoted. Speaking on Oct. 13, he noted that it was the anniversary of our Lady's final apparition in the little Portuguese town in 1917.