In light of the martyrdom of St. Valentine, who was beaten with clubs, beheaded, buried under the cover of darkness, and was disinterred by his followers; I feel it necessary to write about Christian love. St. Valentine, along with all the other great martyrs of the Church, gave up their lives because they were in love with Jesus Christ. Martyrdom is not just about being a witness to Jesus Christ, but it’s about being in love with Him as well. Their love is so great that they willingly sacrificed their lives for Our Lord and Savior.
In 2005, not long after he was elected to the Papacy, Pope Benedict XVI wrote his first encyclical. Many thought it would focus on the Sacred Scriptures or the Divine Liturgy, since those are two of Benedict’s premier subjects, but instead it focused on Christian Love. The title of his first encyclical was – Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).
As we commemorate the martyrdom of St. Valentine and his witness and love for Jesus Christ, I give you 10 quotes from Pope Benedict XVI on Christian love. There is no doubt there are more than 10 great quotes from this letter, but these are the ones chosen for today. I hope enjoy them and share them with others.
1. We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction (#1).
2. God’s love for us is fundamental for our lives, and it raises important questions about who God is and who we are. In considering this, we immediately find ourselves hampered by a problem of language. Today, the term “love” has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings (#2).
3. The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her—but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape (#9).
4. When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they constitute an explanation of his very being and activity. His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form (#12).
5. The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament, an undertaking that is often heroic in the way it is acted out in history; and it seeks to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity. Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man’s sufferings and his needs, including material needs (#19).
6. Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable (#28).
7. Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends…those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love…(#31).
8. “The consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others. Whoever loves Christ loves the Church, and desires the Church to be increasingly the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ (#33).
9. Prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed. People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone…Blessed Teresa [of Calcutta] wrote to her lay co-workers: “We need this deep connection with God in our daily life. How can we obtain it? By prayer” (#36).
10. Mary is the woman of hope…Mary is a woman of faith… Mary is a woman who loves… Mary has truly become the Mother of all believers. Men and women of every time and place have recourse to her motherly kindness and her virginal purity and grace, in all their needs and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their moments of loneliness and their common endeavours. They constantly experience the gift of her goodness and the unfailing love which she pours out from the depths of her heart (#40, #41).
If you have never read Pope Benedict XVI, I would encourage you to do so. In my humble opinion, he is one of the greatest theologians the Catholic Church has seen in the past 500 years. Yes, you read that correctly…500 years.