In the Second Reading of the Divine Office for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the excerpt is from a homily on the Gospels by Pope Saint Gregory the Great. It is a beautiful passage about love, coming to know Jesus Christ, and eschatological joy. The aim of this post is to focus primarily on Gregory’s emphasis on love as read in this selection from the Liturgy of the Hours.
The primary Gospel message that Gregory is preaching on is Christ the Good Shepherd (Jn 10). He is speaking to encourage the flock to truly be flock, and by that he means true followers of the Heavenly Shepherd: “Ask yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love”. To be a sheep of the Good Shepherd is if to, not surprisingly, follow Him—and this requires love.
Moreover, to arrive at this conclusion, Gregory first read and interpreted the following passage: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own – by which I mean, I love them – and my own know me. In plain words: those who love me are willing to follow me, for anyone who does not love the truth has not yet come to know it”. Gregory, here, is drawing upon the Biblical tradition of knowledge, namely, that it is something more than a mere acknowledgement of a fact, that it, instead, involves an interior transformation and even a certain relationship with the truth. Thus, when we come to know God, we thereby come to love the truth—which He is—and so enter into discipleship.
The question, then, seems to be, “How do I come to know God?”. Gregory answers this question by tracing the path that the Son took. It is through love that man comes in communication with God. For the flock of Jesus Christ is a flock inundated with love, and that is the mark of Christianity, of being Christian (cf. Jn 34-35). The whole persona of Jesus is love. He is God Incarnate, the personification of Love. He came “to serve and give his life as a ransom” (Mk 10:45). Therefore, to come to know God requires that we come to know the mediator of God, Christ Jesus. This, in turn, necessitates a conformation-in-being with Jesus. And how one comes to this is through love: serving and giving his life to others. Living for the other is the atom of the Christian compound, so to speak.
Gregory quotes from the First Letter of John to emphasize the importance of love in knowing God: “anyone who claims to know God without keeping his commandments is a liar” (1 Jn 2:4). In a later passage, John writes: “Whoever is without love does not know God” (1 Jn 4:8). Just as God came down into the human condition through love, so man comes to know God through love, of which God Himself is the source and fount.
Thus, love really is a mystical power. By entering into life, into the “sheepfold through me [Jesus] he [one] shall be saved; he shall go freely in and out and shall find good pasture. He will enter into a life of faith; from faith he will go out to vision, from belief to contemplation, and will graze in the good pastures of everlasting life”.
The God of Love calls us to a life of love. When we therefore live charitably, generously, and gratuitously, we begin to follow His incarnate Son—the Bridge into the Divine. Love is the ingredient of mysticism, of coming into contact with the Infinite, of experiencing the closeness of God’s presence face-to-face.
The Pope closes his homily with beautiful words of inspiration that, still today, should be a source of encouragement for Christians: “Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us. To love thus is to be already on our way. No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast.” The excerpt accordingly ends with a message of joy. There is a certain, unique joy of knowing Christ. It is a joy that liberates, a joy that conveys true life, and a joy that nourishes the divine source of the human person. It is a joy that only comes from God, and it is a joy that is accessible only through love.
Thus, just as Deus Caritas est, may we, in turn be love, and so be with God, and allow our souls to experience their primal wings and soar the heavens with the Divine, once again.