“We are not allowed neutrality when faced with the question of God,” Cardinal Ratzinger once said while giving a retreat. “We can only say yes or no, and this with all the consequences extending right down to the smallest details of life.” What then does it mean to say yes to the God who is love? What are the consequences of this yes down to the smallest details of our life? This is the fundamental question posed by Deus Caritas Est. It can only be answered if we understand at the outset that the revelation of divine love does not contradict the highest human aspirations, but lifts them beyond what man can do for himself unaided.
In Deus Caritas Est, we read: “Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a ‘commandment’ imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely bestowed experience of love from within, a love that by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is ‘divine’ because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a ‘we’ which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all’” (18).
Similarly, what does it mean when we say that we are saved by our hope in Christ? As Benedict wrote in Spe Salvi, “man needs God; otherwise he remains without hope.” We cannot be saved “simply from outside,” such as by government or science, but only by unconditional, absolute love. “Man’s great, true hope that holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God — God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’” (see 23-31).
Read together, Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi present a profound meditation on the foundation of Christian life, which leads the believer to make his own the prayer at the end of Deus Caritas Est: “Show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him, so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world” (42).
Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, is founding vice president of the Washington, D.C. session of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
(Photo courtesy L'Osservatore Romano)