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Faith Culminates in the Truth That God Is Love

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 2 October 1985 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "God is love...." These words are contained in one of the last books of the New Testament, the First Letter of St. John (4:16). They are the keystone of the truth about God. That truth is revealed through numerous words and many events until it reaches the full certainty of faith with the coming of Christ, and especially with his cross and resurrection. These words faithfully echo Christ's own statement: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).

The Church's faith reaches its peak in this supreme truth: God is love! In Christ's cross and resurrection he revealed himself definitively as love. "So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16).

2. The truth that God is love constitutes the apex of all that has been revealed "by the prophets and in these days by the Son..." as the Letter to the Hebrews states (1:1). This truth illumines the whole content of divine revelation, and particularly the revealed reality of the creation and of the covenant. Creation manifests the omnipotence of God the Creator. But the exercise of omnipotence is definitively explained by means of love. God created because he could do so, because he is omnipotent. But his omnipotence was guided by wisdom and moved by love. This is the work of creation. The work of redemption has a more powerful eloquence and offers us a more radical demonstration. Love remains as the expression of omnipotence in the face of evil, in the face of the sin of creatures. Only omnipotent love can draw forth good from evil and new life from sin and death.

3. Love as power gives life and animates. It is present in the whole of revelation. The living God, the God who gives life to all living beings, is he of whom the Psalms speak: "These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust" (Ps 104:27-29). The image is drawn from the heart of creation. This picture has anthropomorphic features (like many texts of Sacred Scripture). But this anthropomorphism has its own biblical motivation. Seeing that man is created in the image and likeness of God, there is a reason for speaking of God "in the image and likeness" of man. However, this anthropomorphism does not obscure God's transcendence. It does not reduce God to human dimensions. It observes all the rules of analogy and of analogical language, as well as those of the analogy of faith.

4. God makes himself known in the covenant, first of all to his chosen people. The God of the covenant manifests the properties of his Being, following a pedagogic progression. Those properties are usually called his attributes. They are attributes of the moral order above all, in which the God who is love gradually reveals himself. God reveals himself—especially in the covenant of Sinai—as the lawgiver, the supreme source of law. This legislative authority finds its full expression and confirmation in the attributes of the divine action which Sacred Scripture makes known to us.

The inspired books of the Old Testament manifest them to us. For example, we read in the Book of Wisdom: "For your strength is the source of righteousness, and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.... You who are sovereign in strength judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose" (Wis 12:16-18).

And again: "Who can measure his majestic power? And who can fully recount his mercies?" (Sir 18:5).

The writings of the Old Testament emphasize God's justice, but also his clemency and mercy.

They underline especially God's faithfulness to the covenant, which is an aspect of his "immutability" (cf. e.g., Ps 111:7-9; Is 65:1-2, 16-19).

They speak of God's anger, but this is always the just anger of a God who is "slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ps 145:8). They always set out in relief, in the above-mentioned anthropomorphic concept, God's "jealousy" of his covenant with his people. But they always present it as an attribute of love: "the zeal of the Lord of hosts" (Is 9:7).

We have already said that God's attributes are not distinguished from his essence. So it would be more exact to speak, not so much of a just, faithful, clement God, but rather of God who is justice, faithfulness, clemency, mercy—just as St. John has written that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16).

5. The Old Testament prepared for the definitive revelation of God as love with an abundance of inspired texts. In one of these we read: "You are merciful to all, for you can do all things.... For you love all things that exist and loathe none of the things which you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?... You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord who loves the living" (Wis 11:23-26).

Can it not be said that these words of the Book of Wisdom already shown forth clearly the God who is love (Amor-Caritas) by means of the creator "Being" of God?

But we see other texts, such as that of the Book of Jonah: "For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and who repents of evil" (Jon 4:2).

Or also Psalm 145: "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made" (Ps 145:8-9).

The more we read the writings of the major prophets, the more the countenance of the God of love is revealed to us.

The Lord speaks to Israel by the mouth of Jeremiah: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you" (in Hebrew hesed) (Jer 31:3).

To quote the words of Isaiah: "But Zion said: 'The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.' 'Can a woman forget her child, that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even though she may forget, yet I will not forget you'" (Is 49:14-15).

How significant in God's words is this reference to maternal love. God's mercy is made known by the unequaled tenderness of motherhood, besides being made known to us by fatherhood. Again Isaiah says: "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you" (Is 54:10).

6. This marvelous preparation carried out by God in the history of the Old Covenant, especially by means of the prophets, awaited its definitive fulfillment. The definitive word of God-Love came with Christ. It was not merely pronounced, but lived in the paschal mystery of the cross and of the resurrection. Paul announces it in the Letter to the Ephesians: "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (2:4-5).

Indeed we can give fullness to our profession of faith in "God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth" with St. John's stupendous definition: "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16)."

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend special greetings to the members of the Walsingham Association Pilgrimage from England, and I welcome the Regimental Band and Bagpipes of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

I greet most cordially the Loreto Pilgrim Group from South Africa. And it is a joy to welcome the Scandinavian visitors coming from Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

And upon all the English-speaking visitors from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Malta, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States I invoke grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich herzlich alle Audienzteilnehmer aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache: aus Deutschland, Osterreich und der Schweiz; vor allem die zahlreichen jugendlichen von den verschiedenen Gymnasien. Ich danke euch für euer Kommen und wünsche euch einen lebendigen Glauben und ein frohes Bekenntnis zu Christus und seiner Kirche.

Einen besonderen Willkommensgruß richte ich an die anwesenden Chöre, unter ihnen die Singknaben der St. Ursen-Kathedrale in Solothurn, wie auch an die Teilnehmer der Pilgerfahrt ”Rom im Rollstuhl“ aus den Bistümern Basel, Chur, Sankt Gallen und Sitten. Letzteren bekunde ich meine aufrichtige Verbundenheit und Anteilnahme an ihrem Lebensschicksal. Ich erbitte euch Trost und Stärke, damit ihr euer schweres Los als überzeugte Christen zu tragen und für die Menschen und die Kirche fruchtbar zu machen versteht. Euch und allen deutschsprachigen Pilgern erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amados hermanos y hermanas,

Vaya ahora mi más cordial saludo a todos los visitantes y peregrinos de lengua española.

Saludo especialmente a los sacerdotes, religiosos y religiosas aquí presentes y les aliento en su generosa entrega a los ideales de su vocación y al servicio de Dios y de los hermanos.

Saludo también a los peregrinos procedentes de Colombia y a los miembros del movimiento apostólico “Caminos de Luz” de la Arquidiócesis de Monterrey (México). Asimismo al grupo de la Asociación de Veteranos de la Compañía Aérea “Iberia”.

A todas las personas provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

A gruppi di pellegrini polacchi

Serdecznie pozdrawiam wszystkich obecnych, w szczególności pielgrzymów z parafii św. Krzyża, oo. Cystersów z Mogiły, Nowa Huta; z parafii św. Katarzyny z Nowego ‘rargu; z parafii Miłosierdzia Bożego w Zakopanem; pielgrzymkę niepełnosprawnych z opiekunami Duszpasterstwa Akademickiego oo. Dominikanów z Krakowa; z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Krynicy Zdroju, diecezja tarnowska; z parafii św. Józefa z Kielc; z parafii św. Andrzeja Boboli z Kostomłot koło Kielc; pielgrzymkę służby zdrowia z Lublina; z parafii św. Mikołaja z Wrocławia, księża Salezjanie; księffly diecezji szczecińsko-kamieńskiej; Koło Rodzin Rybaków Dalekomorskich ze Szczecina; kolejarzy z Olszynki Grochowskiej, Warszawa; kolejarzy z Krakowa; ze Słupska; pielgrzymów z parafii św. Michała z Zamościa, od ojców Redemptorystów oraz z parafii Homiatilcze; wreszcie uczestników różnych grup turystycznych PKS z Warszawy, PTTK z Warszawy i Szczecina, Sport-Tourist, Orbis, Turysta, Almatur z Katowic; bardzo się cięsze z obecności ks. biskupa Józefa Rozwadowskiego z Łodzi . . . Niech Bóg błogosławi wszystkich tu obecnych, wszystkich rodaków w Ojczyźnie, a także na całym świecie.

Ai pellegrini di Nagasaki, giunti dalla città dell’Immacolata

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini di “Seibo no Kishi” (Cavaliere dell’Immacolata), voi siete sulle orme del Signore Gesù, della Madonna e di san Francesco.

Ora io vi auguro che i frutti di questo vostro pellegrinaggio contribuiscano non soltanto alla vostra santificazione, ma anche alla santificazione dei vostri connazionali. Con questo augurio vi imparto di cuore la mia benedizione apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo.

A gruppi italiani

Rivolgo ora un saluto particolarmente affettuoso ai missionari che stanno frequentando a Roma un Corso di preparazione per la loro prossima attività di evangelizzazione in Africa e in Asia; in pari tempo, saluto anche le Suore Missionarie che studiano teologia presso la Comunità del “Foyer Paolo VI” di via Urbano VII, in Roma.

Carissimi, vi esprimo il mio vivo compiacimento per il vostro zelo in favore delle missioni. Fate tesoro di questo periodo di preparazione per rendervi sempre più idonei e disponibili nel servizio di una causa così nobile e così meritoria quale è quella della dilatazione del regno di Dio sulla terra.

Con questa vostra scelta voi dimostrate di aver capito che vale la pena di lasciare tutto per consacrare tutte le proprie energie per l’ideale missionario che primeggia su ogni altro, perché riguarda il destino superiore e la salvezza eterna di tanti uomini e donne, a cui ancora non arriva la verità di Cristo che illumina e salva.

Vi sia di sostegno in questo slancio apostolico la mia benedizione apostolica, e vi accompagni il mio continuo ricordo nella preghiera per le vostre presenti e future fatiche.

Ai giovani

Mi rivolgo ora a tutti i ragazzi presenti a questa udienza.

Carissimi, da pochi giorni avete iniziato a frequentare la scuola. L’anno scolastico è un grande dono per voi, vi offre la possibilità di crescere in sapienza e grazia davanti a Dio e agli uomini.

Oggi la Chiesa celebra la festa degli Angeli custodi, ai quali il Signore ha affidato ciascuno di noi perché ci siano di guida. Vi esorto ad essere attenti nell’ascoltare la loro voce e pronti nel seguire i loro suggerimenti. Affido al vostro entusiasmo il compito di saper trasformare le fatiche dello studio in giornate di gioiosa cordialità. In tal modo l’anno scolastico ci darà giovani impegnati al servizio del bene. Per questo vi benedico.

Agli ammalati

Ora saluto anche voi, carissimi fratelli ammalati. La vostra presenza, qui vicino alla tomba di Pietro, apostolo e martire, manifesta la vostra fede, la vostra speranza e il vostro spirito di sacrificio. La sofferenza, se è vissuta alla luce dell’insegnamento e dell’esempio di Gesù Cristo, si trasforma in prezioso strumento di santificazione personale e sociale.

La malattia e la sofferenza, segno dei nostri limiti umani, ci portano a riflettere sui valori della nostra esistenza e il modo di vivere di un malato diventa così una scuola che educa ai valori umani e cristiani.

La preghiera di ogni giorno vi sia di sostegno e di conforto.

Vi benedico di vero cuore.

Agli sposi novelli

Saluto infine gli sposi novelli.

Carissimi, con il sacramento del matrimonio avete reso noto l’impegno di realizzare in coppia la missione di amore e di vita a cui il Signore vi ha chiamati. La Grazia sacramentale ricevuta, l’assidua preghiera e la frequenza ai sacramenti rendono visibile il vostro impegno. Crescete nella fede per diventare capaci di testimoniarla in ogni ambiente e situazione. La società moderna ha bisogno di “vedere come si vive”, più che sentirsi dire come si dovrebbe vivere.

Vi auguro ogni bene e vi benedico di cuore.

© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana