The journey to God is always and necessarily a journey of love. We cannot come to a knowledge of God without first loving God and then practicing that love in our neighbor. We cannot give the gift of love and truly love another if we have not first come to know the love of God in our lives. Knowing God’s love is not an intellectual pursuit but is rather a deep experience of God’s presence and the personal love that he has for each of us. St. John puts it this way in his letter to the Church, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1Jn 4,10) Jesus the Christ, our savior and redeemer, has loved us with an infinite and ineffable love, a love that goes beyond any intellectual explanation, a love that has no reason save love itself and in this way he shows us the Father’s love. He is able to love us with such a strong and lasting love because the Father loves him and continuously pours his love into his heart. As Jesus explains in the gospel, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” (Jn 15,9) Jesus reveals to us the Father’s love for all of humanity and he is able to reveal it to us with such confidence because he has first received and experienced that love in his own life. The love of Jesus for humanity offers him no human advantages, he receives nothing for his love, in fact, it costs him everything. In this way he loves as the Father loves. God loves us for ourselves and for our good.
St. Catherine of Siena expressed the mystery of this Divine Love in her Dialogue with God: “O eternal Father! O fiery abyss of charity! O eternal beauty, O eternal wisdom, O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O hope and refuge of sinners! O immeasurable generosity! O eternal, infinite Good! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you. Why then are you so mad? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made!” The love that God has for us and that he shows us in Christ seems like folly to us for we are so undeserving of his love. We could not possibly love him with that same kind of love and yet he tells us to love. Because we cannot love him with the same measure of love then he instructs us to love our neighbor with that same mad and senseless, disinterested love, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15,12) St. Catherine reflects upon this mystery from God’s perspective as God tells her, “I ask you to love me with the same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I loved you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me – that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me.”
Jesus teaches us this kind of love, the love of true friendship which loves freely expecting nothing in return. It is a love which is “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15,13) We can only do this with Divine assistance through grace. In order to love in the manner of Jesus we must remain in him and in his love and draw our life from him through prayer and sacrament. Without prayer and sacramental grace we could never love in a deep and meaningful way. We love because he first loved us and laid down his life for us. In prayer and sacrament we experience the depth of this love and we are moved then to love one another in this same manner of love. It is the greatest gift that we can give to one another. God gives us the gift of himself, the gift of Divine Love, so that we might have a meaningful love to share with one another.
The gift of meaningful and lasting love is a complete joy that fills us with life. Jesus tells his disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” (Jn 15,11) For complete joy we need a love that lasts. We not only want to experience love but we want to “stay” in love. Jesus encourages his disciples, “Remain in my love.” (Jn 15,9) Jesus instructs his disciples in the Bread of Life discourse, ““Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn 6,56) In the Eucharist Jesus “stays with us”, he fills us with life and he loves us with an everlasting love. Like St. Catherine said: crazy love. Crazy love, crazy joy, crazy life!