Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

‘Be not afraid!’


I interrupt briefly my reflection upon Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)," to comment on the recent approval of a new translation of the Order of the Mass by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at our meeting in Los Angeles June 14 to 17. You have, no doubt, read about changes in the secular or Catholic press.Some of the faithful have expressed to me their concern about the reason for the changes and about the number of changes.I understand that the prospect of change in those things which are dearest to us is always viewed with some skepticism.

Before commenting on the changes, I note that they are not yet final.The text which the conference of bishops approved June 16 must now be reviewed by the Holy See for final approval.

Why the new translation?

The translation of the Order of the Mass, which we are presently using, was prepared in the early 1970s, according to principles of translation which have, in recent years, been carefully and thoroughly reviewed and revised.Here, it is helpful to remind ourselves that Latin is the language of the original text from which all of the translations of the liturgical texts into the various languages of the Church are made. Latin, the official or mother tongue of the Church, provides an important service to the unity of belief and practice throughout the world. The Latin text is the standard by which the accuracy and beauty of a translation are measured.

The key principle of our present translation, known as "dynamic equivalence," permitted the translator to interpret the content of a text, apart from the actual content of the words. As a result, texts which were very rich in scriptural and theological meaning were often rendered in an English version which stripped them of their richness."Dynamic equivalence" is an inadequate tool for all translations and especially for texts of the Sacred Liturgy.The revision of the principles of translation of liturgical texts can be found in the document of the Holy Father’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Liturgiam authenticam, "Fifth Instruction on the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy," issued on March 28, 2001.

Some examples

One translation which has struck me as particularly impoverished is our response when the priest holds up the Sacred Host before Holy Communion.Presently, we respond: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."From the time of my childhood, I was impressed by the scriptural allusion to our Lord’s cure of the Roman Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:6-7) in the Latin text, which, of course, I knew through my St. Joseph Missal: "Domine non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea."In the new translation, the richness of the Latin text is restored, with the beautiful reference to the healing presence of our Lord: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

Other changes reflect important realities of our participation in the Holy Mass. For instance, the word Credo, at the beginning of the Profession of Faith after the Gospel and Homily, is now accurately translated as "I believe" instead of "We believe," to make the Profession of Faith a proper personal and individual act, done in communion with our brothers and sisters present.

It is not possible for me to comment on all of the changes, but, when they are finally approved by the Holy See, care will be taken to explain each change. The changes are not that numerous and, I can assure you, no change was made for the sake of change. All of the changes have a sound foundation in our greatest treasure, the Catholic faith, and its most perfect expression, the Sacred Liturgy.

Change as a time of grace

The changes in the responses of the faithful are not numerous, nor are they difficult.While some have expressed frustration at having to learn a new version of their responses, I believe that the new translations, because of their greater fidelity to the original text, will actually assist us to enter more fully into the profound reality which is the Eucharistic Sacrifice.For my part, I have been inspired by studying the new translations.They reflect much more the great beauty of the Sacred Liturgy and invite us to a deeper participation in the action of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Some experts and commentators on the matter have suggested that the "rank and file" faithful will not understand the changes in translations or will resist them.I do not share their opinion in any way.From my pastoral experience, I can only imagine that the new translations will be welcomed with gratitude and attention, and that any initial awkwardness in adapting to the changes will be rapidly overcome. At the same time, if I as archbishop and our good priests provide a careful explanation of the changes, they will be more than understandable and, in fact, will be an occasion for our growing in eucharistic faith.


A month or so before the meeting of the conference of bishops, I received a letter from a young Catholic who was received into the full communion of the Church some three years ago.He has literally fallen in love with the Catholic faith and, above all, with the Holy Eucharist.
He is now a daily participant in Holy Mass. Reading about the proposed new translations, he wrote to assure me that he welcomes the prospect of a more faithful and, therefore, richer translation of the liturgical texts into English: "I only write this letter because I thought it would be good for you to have on record the thoughts of at least one lay Catholic, unworthy as he is to receive Our Lord’s Body and Blood every day, about what he thinks of the new proposed translation. I love the liturgy, and I feel particularly blessed to be in such a fine Archdiocese as St. Louis where both the old and new rites are celebrated with reverence."

May we all accept the new translation of the Order of the Mass, when it is finally approved, with a deep faith in the Holy Eucharist and a deep love of our eucharistic Lord. May the changes in the translations be the occasion for us to deepen our eucharistic faith and practice.

‘Be not afraid!’

Union of our hearts with the pierced Heart of Jesus

Pope Benedict XVI begins part two of his first encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)," by summarizing the fruit of his reflection on the one reality of love, revealed in nature and in the Word of God, in part one. The summary is found in the focus on the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, in which the one reality of love is fully revealed to us.Through the piercing of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the soldier’s spear, Christ, God the Son made man, poured out His life for our salvation and revealed God the Father’s love to us in all its richness. From His glorious pierced Heart Christ never ceases to pour out the grace of the Holy Spirit upon all believers, giving us divine love and inspiring us to live in divine love.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of the promise of our Lord Jesus that "rivers of living water" would flow out from the hearts of those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.The source of our charity, of our love of others and the world, is the Heart of Jesus.Our Holy Father declares:

"The Spirit, in fact, is that interior power which harmonizes their (believers’) hearts with Christ’s heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them, when He bent down to wash the feet of the disciples (cf. John 13:1-13) and above all when He gave His life for us" (cf. John 13:1; 15:13) (n. 19a).

It is the union of our hearts with the Heart of Jesus which produces in us the works of charity.

The Holy Spirit poured forth into our hearts from the glorious Heart of Jesus also transforms the whole community of the Church.The community of the Church is called to give witness to the love of God the Father for all mankind, drawing all mankind into one.All of the Church’s activities, whether it be teaching the faith or celebrating the sacraments, seek the good of all men, seek "to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity" (n. 19b).

Charity is the responsibility of the Church

Once we have placed our hearts into the glorious Heart of Jesus, we accept the responsibility to love others as He loves them.Our love of our neighbor is indeed the love of Christ; we draw our selfless love of others from His Heart.The responsibility of love of neighbor belongs also to the whole Church, for the hearts of all members of the Church, united to the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, are, therefore, united with each other.The whole Church has the responsibility to teach the faith, to celebrate the sacraments and to do the works of Christ’s love.

From the very beginning, the members of the Church understood the communal responsibility of love and organized the works of charity so that the love of Christ could reach all. Pope Benedict XVI recalls to our minds the famous description of the life of the first Christian community at Jerusalem, given in the Acts of the Apostles: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (2:44-45).The holding of all things in common, the "communion" of the Church, is constitutive.In other words, it is part of what it means to be the Church.

Our Holy Father comments that the "material communion," that is, holding all things in common, could not continue as the Church grew throughout the world.The "essential core" of "communion," however, has always been a fundamental part of the life of the Church.Pope Benedict XVI concludes that "within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life" (n. 20).

Early manifestations of communion in the Church

The establishment of the Order of Deacons is one of the first manifestations of communion in the Church.Seven deacons were ordained, in order to assist the Apostles with the works of charity, which are inherent to the teaching of the faith and the ministration of the sacraments.Our Holy Father reminds us that the service of the deacons was not simply "a mechanical work of distribution" of goods.It was required that the deacons be "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3).The deacon exercised a truly spiritual ministry while providing direct material aid to others.The deacon was ordained to carry out the Church’s responsibility of love.

With the ordination of deacons, the ministry of charity or "diaconia," as it was called in Greek, was established in the Church.Regarding the life of the Church, from her very beginning, the Holy Father observes that "love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel" (n. 22).The Holy Father then provides several examples to illustrate his point.

Among the examples given by the Holy Father is the establishment of the diaconia in each monastery of Egypt in the fourth century, giving the service of charity a stable form in the Church.In each diocese in Egypt, and, in time, throughout the Church, the ministry of charity was juridically established.The life of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, shows that the Church at Rome had the ministry of charity from its first evangelization.When the Roman Pontiff and the other deacons had been arrested, Deacon Lawrence, the one responsible for distributing the Church’s goods to the poor, was ordered to turn over the goods to the civil authorities. In response, Lawrence distributed all of the remaining goods to the poor and "then presented to the authorities the poor themselves as the real treasure of the Church" (n. 23).

Pope Benedict XVI recalls the story of the Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate, to demonstrate further the truth that a well ordered service of charity marked the life of the early Church in its essence.While Julian abandoned the faith, he remained attracted by a constitutive part of the life of faith, namely, the ministry of charity.

Be not afraid!

Two Questions

Pope Benedict XVI concludes part one of his first encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)," by answering two questions. The first part of the encyclical letter is devoted to a reflection on "the nature of love and its meaning in biblical faith." The Holy Father’s reflection underlines the two great commandments, that is, the commandment to love God and the commandment to love our neighbor, which, as he illustrates, have, in Christ, become one commandment.

To complete his reflection on the two great commandments, which are truly one great commandment, Pope Benedict XVI responds to two questions. The first question is: "Can we love God without seeing Him?" The second question is: "Can love be commanded" (n. 16)?

We love God Whom we do not see

To respond to the first question, the Holy Father reflects on a passage from the First Letter of John:
"If any one says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God Whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).

At first, the scriptural passage seems to imply that we cannot love God because we have not seen Him. If we reflect on the passage, however, we see that the opposite is the case. What God is showing us, through St. John, is the path to love of Him by way of love of our neighbor. St. John's words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God (n. 16).

Although we have not seen God, God has made Himself visible to us. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, He has come to dwell with us. God the Son united our human nature to His divine nature, that we might know God, and His faithful and enduring love. Earlier in the just-cited chapter of his First Letter, St. John, in fact, writes about the revelation of God's love for us (1 John 4:9-10).

The Bible and the Church, a love story

The Sacred Scriptures are accurately described as an account of the many ways in which we have seen God because He has chosen to make Himself visible to us. The Holy Father refers to the Bible as "a love story," the story of how God came to dwell with us, pouring out His love for us from the pierced Heart of Jesus. It is the story of how God continues to dwell us with through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit from the glorious Heart of Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father (n. 17a).

The history of the Church, in which we all participate, is the continuation of the story of God’s love. God has revealed and reveals Himself and His love to us in the lives of the saints down the Christian centuries; in His inspired Word, the Holy Bible; and in the sacraments. He has revealed and reveals Himself to us, most wonderfully of all, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

The moral of the story is that God has first loved us. In the presence of the mystery of His love, we respond with love. "He has loved us first and He continues to do so; we, too, then, can respond with love" (n. 17a).

Love, the communion of wills

What is the nature of our response of love to God Who reveals Himself to us? Pope Benedict XVI points out that it is not "merely a sentiment."Sentiment certainly plays some part in our love of God, for it stirs up in us a response of love. It is "a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love" (n. 17b).

Our love of God, as it develops, goes beyond the "feeling of joy of the experience of being loved" to the union of our wills with the will of God. The Holy Father reminds us that the fundamental nature of love is to will the same things which the one we love wills. Love, therefore, is a way of life. If love is faithful and enduring, as indeed it must be by its very nature, it grows and matures throughout a lifetime. In our relationship with God, God's will becomes more and more my own. More and more, we obey God's commandments, not as external constraints, but as the way to be true to God’s love of us and true to our love of Him.

The commandment of love

The answer to the first question actually provides the answer to the second question. When my will is united to the will of God, then I look upon my brothers and sisters with love, even as God looks upon them with love. When my will is one with God’s faithful and enduring love, then I truly love "even the person whom I do not like or even know" (n. 18).

The commandment of love of neighbor is not simply fulfilled by doing loving things for others. Christian love looks upon the neighbor with "the eyes of Christ," and gives them, therefore, "much more than their outward necessities." It gives them "the look of love which they crave" (n. 18).

The Holy Father provides a striking reflection on how the life of devotion and active love of neighbor are intrinsically related to each other. Devotion is necessary if we are to see in our neighbor the image of God. If our devotion does not issue in acts of love of neighbor, it becomes empty and cold. "Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much He loves me" (n. 18).

The Holy Father reminds us of how the saints, and, in particular, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in our time, "constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service of others" (n. 18).

Love makes us one

Pope Benedict XVI concludes part one of the encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est" by reminding us that, because God has first loved us, our love of neighbor is an expression of our love of Him. Yes, love is a commandment, but, when it is seen at its source in the faithful and enduring love of God for us, it is a sharing of the love of God, which we have first experienced in our deepest being. The Holy Father concludes: "Love is divine because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a we which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all’" (1 Corinthians 15:28).

‘Be not afraid!’

Love and the Incarnation

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God.In Jesus Christ, God the Son made man, we see perfectly the biblical image of God and of man in their essential relationship to each other.Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical "God is Love," reminds us that it is Christ Who "gives flesh and blood" to the teaching about love in the Holy Scriptures (n. 12).Throughout the Holy Scriptures, we witness the faithful and enduring love of God for man.In Christ, God Himself has come to dwell with man, in order to love Him unconditionally, "to the end" (John 13:1).Christ is the fullness of the expression of God’s love for us.

Pope Benedict makes allusion to the many images with which Christ teaches us about God’s love of us in Him, for example, the Good Shepherd in search of the lost sheep and the Prodigal Son and the Forgiving Father.The Holy Father concludes: "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" (n. 12).The "pierced side of Christ," His glorious Sacred Heart, is the enduring sign of the ceaseless and immeasurable love of God for us all.It is in the pierced Heart of Jesus that we find both the source of divine love of us and the source of our purification, so that we may truly love one another with the selfless love of God.

Love and the Holy Eucharist

Our Lord Jesus continues to reveal God’s unceasing and immeasurable love of us through the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.On the night before He died, at the Last Supper, our Lord shared with the Apostles and, through them, with all of the disciples, the fruit of His Suffering, Dying and Rising from the dead. He desires that the Eucharist be celebrated daily, so that He may offer, in every time and place, as He first did at the Last Supper and on Calvary, His Body and Blood as Heavenly Food for man on his earthly journey.

In the ancient cultures, "eternal wisdom" was seen as the "real food" which man seeks and which "truly nourishes him as man" (n. 13).In Christ, through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, man receives eternal wisdom in person.Christ gives His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to us through the Eucharistic Sacrifice.In the Holy Eucharist, we have communion with the wisdom of God incarnate.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that our sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is precisely a sharing in Christ’s own self-offering.In the symbolic language of the Bible, God espouses man through the Holy Eucharist.Man shares in the very love of God, having communion with God through the Body and Blood of Christ, and, therefore, communion with Him in the outpouring of His life in love of us.

The Holy Father refers to the "sacramental mysticism" of the Holy Eucharist (n. 13). Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we have mystical communion with God, which is founded on the reality of the Real Presence.The communion is profoundly mystical and profoundly real.

Love and community

Our communion with God in Christ is, at once, also communion with all brothers and sisters who are one with us in Christ.The "sacramental mysticism" of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is, by its very nature, social.Pope Benedict XVI explains: "I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to Him only in union with those who have become, or who will become, His own" (n. 14).

The social nature of our sacramental communion with Christ makes clear that love of God and neighbor is not merely a moral precept but the expression of who we truly are in Christ.We know the commandment to love because God has first loved us."Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given" (n. 14).

Love and the parables of Jesus

Through the great parables, the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Last Judgment, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that anyone in need, whom I can help, is my neighbor, without boundary.

Pope Benedict XVI points out that the universal commandment of love is, at the same time, very concrete.It "calls for my own practical commitment here and now" (n. 15).The Church, in her teaching, helps us to know the "here and now" demands of the love of Christ, which has been poured forth into our hearts.

The Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) merits special mention by our Holy Father.By this parable, Christ teaches us that love "becomes the criterion" of God’s judgment on the life of any one of us.In the parable, Christ "identifies Himself with those in need, with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison" (n. 15).There is no mistaking the meaning of Christ’s words: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).

Pope Benedict XVI concludes that, with the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ and through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the love of God and neighbor are indeed made one. "In the least of the brethren we find Jesus Himself, and in Jesus we find God" (n. 15).

‘Be not afraid!’

Love and the Image of Man

In presenting the Scriptural teaching on love, Pope Benedict XVI first reflected upon the new and distinct image of God in the Holy Scriptures.He then reflects upon the Biblical image of man, which is also new and distinct.

The two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis make it clear that man alone is incomplete.Nature provides woman to the solitary man, in whom he finds the communion which makes him whole.

The Second Account of Creation tells us that God created Eve after Adam, in order that the two might help one another. Even though Adam had named all of the creatures and "thus made them fully a part of his life," no other creature proved to be his fitting companion and helper.God created Eve from the side of Adam; she is one with him in the most intimate sense of the word. Seeing Eve, Adam declares: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23). The story of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Second Account concludes with words which describe the truth about man and woman, and their essential relationship to one another: "Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gn 2:24).

Having reflected upon the image of man in the Bible, the Holy Father concludes that nature teaches man "to seek in another the part that can make him whole." It is "communion with the opposite sex" which makes him "complete" (n. 11a). The traditional use of the common noun, man, to refer to man and woman underlines the unity and complementarity of the human male and female. The creation of man in the First Account of Creation states succinctly the truth of the unity and complementarity of the sexes: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gn 1:27).

Man and Woman

Pope Benedict XVI underlines two parts of the teaching on man in the Sacred Scriptures.The first part is man’s natural pursuit of union with woman and woman’s natural pursuit of union with man. Eros or human love is part of man’s very nature.Man and woman together, united in love, "represent complete humanity."They become "one flesh."

Secondly, eros or human love leads man to marriage, that is, to the faithful and enduring relationship of love between one man and one woman.In marriage, human love achieves "its deepest purpose." The fidelity and indissolubility of the marital relationship is a reflection of its participation in the love of God.The union of "one flesh," the conjugal union, therefore, is an expression of the marital bond and relationship. The sexual union of man and woman outside of marriage is a betrayal of human love.It is not true to the relationship of the man and the woman which is not marital. It is not an expression of chaste love but the use of another as an object of sexual gratification.

Even as there is one only God in the Jewish faith, so one man and one woman give themselves totally to each other for a lifetime in marriage."Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage" (n. 11b). In married love, we find the sign of God’s love of us: exclusive and enduring. Man cannot give himself and woman cannot give herself in exclusive and enduring love to more than one partner. Marriage is called a natural sacrament, for it is a participation in the very love with which God loves us.

Marriage, Consecrated Life and Priesthood

The love of the consecrated person and the priest, who give up the good of marriage for the sake of Kingdom of Heaven, is also conjugal or nuptial, in the sense that the consecrated person and the priest embrace perpetual continence as an expression of faithful and enduring love of Christ the Bride and of the Church, His Bridegroom.

In the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Pastores dabo vobis (On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day)," our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II reminded us of the profoundly conjugal meaning of virginity and celibacy:
In virginity and celibacy, chastity retains its original meaning, that is, of human sexuality lived as a genuine sign of and precious service to the love of communion and gift of self to others.This meaning is fully found in virginity which makes evident, even in the renunciation of marriage, the "nuptial meaning" of the body through a communion and a personal gift to Jesus Christ and His Church which prefigures and anticipates the perfect and final communion and self-giving of the world come (n. 29a).

The married couple, the consecrated person and the priest are united by bonds of the same chaste love of Christ. The married couple treasure the perpetual continence of the consecrated person and the priest as a sign of the faithful and enduring love to which they are vowed. The consecrated person and the priest treasure in the married couple the good which they have freely given up, in order to serve families and the Church.

The love of the consecrated person and of the priest is not only faithful and enduring. It is also life-giving.The fruitfulness of celibate love is found in spiritual maternity and paternity exercised on behalf of countless brothers and sisters.

‘Be not afraid!’

Biblical faith and love

The reflection on human love thus far leads Pope Benedict XVI to conclude that love "is a single reality, but with different dimensions" (Deus Caritas Est [God is love] n. 8).The two dimensions of love, human love or eros and divine love or agape, are both real.At times, one or another dimension may appear more strongly. They are, however, dimensions of one and the same reality.If they are not related to each other, love becomes distorted.

The Holy Father reminds us that biblical faith does not oppose human love to divine love.Biblical faith recognizes us as we are and, therefore, recognizes the reality of human love, while, at the same time, it recognizes the reality of divine love, which purifies human love of anything that betrays who we are and impoverishes the reality of our love.

To help us in understanding the biblical teaching on love, the Holy Father first reflects upon the image of God and the image of man in the Sacred Scriptures.The teaching on God and man, discovered in the Sacred Scriptures, is, in fact, new and distinct in relationship to the understanding of God and man, found in other cultures and religions.

Love and the image of God

To help us in understanding the biblical teaching on love, the Holy Father first reflects upon the image of God in the Holy Scriptures. The image of God, which is presented in the Bible, is distinct from the image of God and of the gods in other ancient cultures, in two principal ways.The first way is seen in one of the most basic prayers offered daily by the people of Israel.The prayer, called the Shema, declares: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4).The prayer is a clear expression of monotheism, that is, the belief that there is one God alone, Who is God of heaven and earth, "the God of all."The prayer is brief but rich in doctrinal content, for it excludes completely the existence of other gods and acknowledges the one God as the source of all creation, of which He is the Creator.Implicit in the prayer is the truth that the created order came into being because of God’s will or desire, and is, therefore, "dear to Him"(n. 9a).

The second way in which the image of God in the Sacred Scriptures is distinct derives from the first way.God, for Whom all of creation is dear, "loves man."In other cultures and philosophies, the divinity is the object of desire and love on the part of man but does not love man.God, in the Bible, however, personally loves man.What is more, He chooses one nation, Israel, as the special object of His love, so that, through Israel, His love may reach to all nations.The love of God for us reveals the perfect union of eros and agape.

To delve more deeply into the fundamental vocation of Israel in the work of salvation, I recommend reading the book, "Salvation Is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming," by Roy H. Schoeman (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003).Schoeman presents, in a striking way, the particular relationship of love between God and the Jewish people, and its critical role in the relationship of love between God and all the nations.

God’s love in the prophets

Pope Benedict XVI recalls to our minds the use of the "metaphors of betrothal and marriage" by the prophets to describe God’s deep love of His people.Most significant in the message of the prophets is God’s gift of the Torah or Law to man.The books of the prophets Hosea and Ezekiel are especially rich in the imagery of the spousal love of God for man.

Through the Law, essentially the Ten Commandments, God reveals to us our true nature and the path or discipline to follow, that we may mature, in accord with our nature.The Law defines the way of faithful love of God in response to His love.It shows the way of truth and justice, by which man loves God and neighbor (n.9b).

The Law shows God’s love of man to be the perfect union of eros and agape.God first loves us, even though we do not merit His love.What is more, He forgives our repeated betrayals of His love, which are described with the metaphors of adultery and prostitution.God’s love for us is so deep that it leads Him to forgive us when He should condemn us because of our sins.The fullest expression of God’s all-merciful love is the Crucifixion.Referring to the description of God’s love in the prophet Hosea, Pope Benedict declares:

"Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man He follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love" (n. 10a).

God, creator and lover

The Holy Father concludes his treatment of the biblical image of God as a new element of biblical faith by pointing out the philosophical aspect of the image, which also constitutes something new and distinct.The biblical image of God is philosophical or metaphysical, to be more precise."God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being."At the same time, however, He is "a lover with all the passion of a true love."The passion in God, the eros, is real, but it is also "so purified as to become one with agape"(n. 10b).In God, the passion of love is totally disciplined by the pursuit of the good of the beloved, His holy people.

Pope Benedict XVI makes reference to The Song of Songs, a divinely-inspired collection of "love songs," in which biblical faith finds a wonderful reflection of the relationship of love between God and man.This book of the Bible is also called The Song of Solomon or The Canticle of Canticles.

The faith which we are taught by the Sacred Scriptures and in The Song of Songs, in particular, at its very foundation, assures us that we can indeed have communion with God, the deepest desire in our souls.It also teaches us that the communion of love with God, which is God’s gift to us, does not destroy man as His most beloved creature but enables man to be fully who he is. Regarding our communion with God, the Holy Father writes:

"But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one" (n. 10b).

The Song of Songs leads us to an ever deeper appreciation of divine love, God’s relationship with us and our relationship with Him, which is the source and the energy of our Catholic faith. For meditation on the love of God for us and our love of Him, using The Song of Songs, I recommend a book of spiritual reading, which I have found very helpful: "The Cantata of Love: A Verse by Verse Reading of The Song of Songs," by Father Blaise Arminjon, SJ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

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