Acts of mercy

Acts of Mercy - Pope Francis

08.01.15 Holy Mass Santa Marta       1 John 4: 7-10,      Mark 6: 34-44

In these days the key word in the liturgy is ‘manifestation’: the Son of God manifests Himself in the Feast of the Epiphany, to the Gentiles; in Baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends upon Him; in the wedding at Cana, when he performs the miracle of changing water into wine. Indeed, these are the three signs that the liturgy brings in these days in order to speak to us about the manifestation of God: God makes Himself known. But the question is this: how can we know God? (1 Jn 4:7-10) The theme that the Apostle John takes up in the First Reading: knowledge of God. What does it mean to know God? How can one know God?

A first reply would be: one can know God through reason. But really, can I know God through reason? Somewhat, yes. Indeed, through my intellect, reasoning, looking at worldly things, one can begin to understand that there is a God and the existence of God can be understood in some of God’s personality traits. However, this is insufficient for knowing God, in so far as God is known totally in the encounter with Him, and reason alone does not suffice for the encounter, something more is needed: reason helps you to reach a certain point, then He accompanies you onward.

In his letter, John clearly states what God is: God is
love. For this reason, only on the path of love can you know God. Of course, reasonable love, accompanied by reason, but love. Perhaps one could ask at this point how can I love whom I don’t know?. The answer is clear: “Love those whom you have near”. In fact, this is the doctrine of two commandments: the most important one is to love God, for He is love. The second is to love your neighbour, but to get to the first, we have to climb the steps of the second. In a word, through love of our neighbour, we come to know God, who is love and only by loving reasonably, but by loving, we can reach this love.

John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God”. But, you cannot love if God doesn’t give the love, doesn’t generate this love for you because he who loves knows God. On the contrary, St John writes, “he who does not love does not know God; for God is love”. This is not “soap opera love”, but rather sound, strong love, an eternal love that manifests itself — these days the word is ‘manifest’ — in his Son who has come to save us. It is, therefore, a concrete love, a love of works and not of
words. It is here, then, that it takes a lifetime to know God: a journey, a journey of love, of knowledge, of love for our neighbour, of love for those who hate us, of love for all.

Jesus himself gave us the example of love. And, indeed, in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his Son to be the victim of expiation for our sins. This is why we are able to contemplate the love of God in the person of Jesus. And by doing what Jesus taught us about love for our neighbour, we reach — step by step — the love of God, knowledge of God who is love.

The Apostle John, in his letter, goes a little ahead when he states that in this is love and not that we loved God, but that He loved us first: God precedes us in love. In fact, when I meet God in prayer, I feel that God loved me before I began to seek Him. Yes, He is always first, He waits for us, He calls us. And when we arrive, He is there!

(Jer 1:11-12) How beautiful were God’s words to Jeremiah: ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ — ‘a rod of almond, Lord’ — ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’. The flower of the almond tree is the first to blossom in spring, the first. This signifies that the Lord is there, watching over, and He is always the first, like the almond tree, He loves us first. And we, too, will always have this surprise: when we draw near to God through
works of charity, through prayer, in Communion, in the Word of God, we find that He is there, first, waiting for us, this is how He loves us. And just like the flower of the almond tree, He is the first. Truly, that verse from Jeremiah tells us so much.

A similar proposal can be gleaned from the episode presented in today’s Reading from the Gospel according to Mark (6:34-44), which first says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd of people, it is the love of Jesus: He saw a large crowd, like sheep without a shepherd, confused. But today as well, there are so many confused people in our cities, in our countries: so many people.

When Jesus saw these confused people He was moved: He began to teach them the doctrine, the matters of God and the people heard Him, listened to Him very closely because the Lord was good at speaking, He spoke to the heart.

Then, Mark recounts in his Gospel that, realizing that those 5,000 people hadn’t eaten, Jesus asks his disciples to see to it. Thus, Christ is first to go meet with the people. Perhaps on their part, the disciples got somewhat upset, felt annoyed, and their response was harsh: ‘shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?’. Thus, God’s love was first; the disciples hadn’t understood. But God’s love is really like this: He is always waiting for us, He always surprises us. It is the Father, our Father who loves us so much, who is always ready to forgive us, always. And not once, but 70 times seven. Always!. Indeed, like a Father full of love. Therefore, in order to know this God who is love, we must climb the steps of love for our neighbour, by works of charity, by the
acts of mercy that our Lord has taught us.

Lord, in these days in which the Church makes us ponder the manifestation of God, grant us the grace to know Him on the path of love.