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Ramiro Pelliero, Professor of Theolgy
On fear and love
Francis does not want us to be blocked by fear, because fear weakens us, diminishes us, paralyzes us (cf. Homily at Santa Marta, 15-V-2015). On the other hand, Jesus commands us to love. But can love be commanded? What would we think if someone said to us: "I command you to love me"? What if we are afraid to love?
The question of whether God can command love raises two difficulties. First, can one love someone who is unseen? Second, can love be commanded? It seems that, love being a feeling, it cannot be commanded because it cannot be created by the will (cf. encyclical Deus caritas est, n. 16).
Let us look first of all at the context of this commandment: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. (...) This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. (...) This is my commandment to you, that you love one another" (Jn 15:9-17).
Undoubtedly, Jesus "commands" love -to God and to his brothers-, and not only for the disciples who have known and treated him, but, as we Christians understand, he also commands it to us. But let us note that, at the same time that he commands it, and even beforehand, he gives us the capacity to love. He commands us "because" he loves us. And he does not command us to love in any way, but "as I have loved you". From entrance God's love for us has been made very visible in Jesus.
This cannot mean that our love must be of the same quality and intensity as his, or that it must necessarily acquire the same historical "form" that his love for us has taken on: through the Cross. It must mean something different, along the lines of basic attitude and generosity. But even so, this "measure" of Christian love surpasses any merely human strength. How is it possible, then, that he commands it?
To begin with, we cannot know what love really is, if it is defined by what God has done for us (giving us his Son for the propitiation of our sins). This not knowing what love is should not keep us from loving God and others. This is what God asks of us, as if he were saying to us: only when you love, will you know what love is. And he asks this of us because he first gives us the capacity to do so, even if this capacity exceeds our own strength.
How do we know that he has given us the capacity to love, and that is why he commands us to do so? We know this because through baptism we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, whose unity and life proceeds from the Holy Spirit, who is precisely the love staff of the Father and the Son in the Trinity. From there Christian love (for God and for others) is realized not by mere human strength, but by the strength and participation of the same love of God that the Holy Spirit gives us through our life in the (mystical) Body of Christ, which is the Church.
We could say: whoever loves can command love. We see it already on the human level: a mother or a friend can "command" love to a certain extent, to the extent that they love us. Now, true love is always something free. It is not just a feeling, but rather a meeting that involves the whole person, intelligence and will. When someone really loves us, it is as if he is entitled to ask us: in the name of my love, I command you to love. Of course he takes the risk that we will say no. And somehow, because he loves us, he is opening us to love.
It is the same with God, except that He loves us infinitely. He enables us to love by the mere fact that we are persons, and, in a surprising, new and greater way, beginning with our baptism.
God commands us to love as one who knows what is good for us, what makes us better, greater, more human, truly Christian. And he patiently awaits our free response.
St. John says: "Whoever fears has not attained the fullness of love" (1 Jn 4:18). This can help us understand that God commands us to love, so that we can overcome fear.