God is Love: The Letters of Saint John
Easter is a season to rejoice in the love of Christ our Redeemer, and then proclaim the Good News of the Risen Lord who calls us to eternal life. This is what Saint John does in his three letters of the New Testament and I invite you to read and reflect on these inspiring writings in this time of joy.
The message of Saint John is this: God is light and we are called to walk in the light with him, living in truth and loving God and one another (1 John 1:5-7, 2:9-11). He begins his first letter by bearing witness – “[W]hat we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life,” professes the Beloved Disciple. “[W]e have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us” (1 John 1:1).
Applying these words to life today, Pope Francis says, “By his taking flesh and coming among us, Jesus has touched us, and through the sacraments he continues to touch us even today; transforming our hearts, he unceasingly enables us to acknowledge and acclaim him as the Son of God. In faith, we can touch him and receive the power of his grace” (Lumen Fidei, 31).
Belief in the Incarnation is central to our faith. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea,” Pope Benedict XVI taught, “but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, 1). Before all else, the Christian faith is relationship – relationship with God who is himself relationship in the communion of the Trinity.
The key then to understanding John’s letters – the key to interpreting all of sacred scripture, as well as the meaning of human life – and why these writings are so treasured in the Church is found in his beautiful affirmation, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Pope Benedict explains: “[E]verything has its origin in God’s love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope” (Caritas in Veritate, 2).
This love is not merely a sentiment or philosophy, but a living reality. God’s love is visible throughout history, but nothing so demonstrates that “God is love” as the fact that “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him” (1 John 4:9).
If human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and God is love – a fullness of love that is a complete gift of self as Jesus gave himself – what does that say about what we should be and how we should conduct our lives?
While God loves us faithfully to the end, if we are to remain in the light, we must admit that we have not always been faithful to our calling. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” warns Saint John. “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:8-9).
God wants our destiny to be with him and so, though imperfect, we dare to call him “Our Father.” We dare because Jesus said to, and because we are baptized into Jesus’ life and so have become God’s adopted children. Saint John speaks of it this way: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1 John 3:1). We are children of God. This too is not a metaphor or poetic figure of speech. We really are, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, adopted children of God who shares eternal life with us.
In his three letters, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” says that he proclaims the Good News “so that our joy may be complete” (John 19:26; 1 John 1:4). We too are disciples whom Jesus loves, and so if our joy is to be complete, we too must share the saving love of Christ with others.