Deus Caritas Est: The Attributes of Love

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By Bob Kurland, Catholic Stand, 25 November AD 2018

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.
—Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est

The Forty Hours Homilies of Fr. Pius, OP

Our parish was blessed to have Fr. Tukura Pius Michael, OP, deliver three homilies at the evening vespers held for the annual 40 Hours Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.  The overall theme for these homilies was “Why do I love God?”  Specific topics were “What is Love?” (first evening), “God is Love” (second evening), “Why do I love God?”  (third evening).   I can’t hope to reproduce the full force of Fr. Pius’s homiletic style: humor, interaction with the congregation, scriptural allusions.  (See this video to get a notion.)  Rather, I’ll talk about what made the most impact on me and how I hope to apply his teachings.

What is Love?  The Attributes of Love

An act of love always tends towards two things; to the good that one wills, and to the person for whom one wills it: since to love a person is to wish that person good. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q 20

In his first homily, Fr. Pius argued that to understand “Why I love God,” we must first have some idea of what “love” is.  He used the definition of St. Thomas Aquinas, that to love a person is to wish good for that person. (See the quote above.)  This will to do good is not desire, which is a different aspect of love (“eros”).

The will to do good for another is “selfless,” not “selfish.”   And this distinction is made clear in the wonderful discourse on love in First Corinthians 13, which sets forth these attributes of love:

  • Love suffers long and is kind;

  • love does not envy;

  • love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;

  •  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 

  •  does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 

  •  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

  •  Love never fails.—1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NKJV)

“Love suffers long” is equivalent to the attribute that we’re probably more familiar with: “Love is patient.”  I thought, as I heard this, “patience is not one of my virtues; I’ll have to cultivate that.”  “Love…is not provoked” is the same as “Love is not easily angered”  Again, I thought “that’s not one of my virtues.  I’ll have to remember that when speaking to help desk personnel who can’t be understood because of their accented English, or remember not to give the finger to someone who cuts me off in heavy traffic.”

We have the definition of love given by St. Thomas Aquinas and the attributes of love given in First Corinthians, which are fundamental to understanding “Deus Caritas Est,”  or “God is Love.”   So that’s where we’ll go next.

God is Love

“God is Love,” but that equality is not reflexive: “Love is God” is not always true.  As per the Aquinas definition of  love, God desires the best for us, no matter how we sin, how bad we are.  When Fr. Pius said this, I was reminded of the love we have for our children: we love them even when they do wrong.   And we are God’s children, by adoption, so we can be sure that God loves us, no matter what.

Scripture says that just as Abraham showed his love for God by offering to sacrifice his son, so God loves us:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.—John 3:16  (KJV)

Again and again, Fr. Pius emphasized that God’s love for us is unconditional; it doesn’t depend on how good or bad we are.  And this is so, because God is love.

So, how do we answer “Why do I love God?”

Why do “I” love God?

This is the question that each person has to answer for him/her self, because the answer will be different for each of us.  In this section I won’t reproduce Fr. Pius’s stories about his native village in Nigeria and how they illustrated his love for God.  Rather, I’ll let music speak for me, because my deepest connections with God have always been occasioned by music:

“Ubi Caritas, Deus Est.”

“What Wondrous Love is This”

Finally, these words of First Corinthians 13 tell us why we should love God and love each other; may they fill you with grace:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
—1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (KJV)