"God is charity and he that abideth in charity abideth in God and God in him."[I John, IV, 16.] The effect of this charity - such would seem to be God's law - is to compel Him to enter into our loving hearts to return love for love, as He said: "If anyone love me..., my Father will love him and we will come to him and will make our abode with him."[John, XIV, 28.] Charity then, more than any other virtue binds us closely to Christ. How many children of the Church, on fire with this heavenly flame, have rejoiced to suffer insults for Him, and to face and overcome the hardest trials, even at the cost of their lives and the shedding of their blood. For this reason our Divine Savior earnestly exhorts us in these words: "Abide in my love." And as charity, if it does not issue effectively in good works, is something altogether empty and unprofitable, He added immediately: "If you keep my commandments you shall abide in my love; as I have also kept my Father's commandments and do abide in His love."[John, XV, 9-10]
"Deus caritas est": the mysterious words of Saint John define the unrelenting Love of Christ for his Church, his own Mystical Body, as explained by Pope Pius XII in his majestic encyclical on the Church, Mystici Corporis Christi. In this fifth and final installment of the series of Divine Charity (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) in past papal documents, the Mysterious nature of the Church as an instrument and object of the Love of the Christ, her Head, is made clear in the words of Pope Pius. First, it must express itself through the members of the Mystical Body:
...corresponding to this love of God and of Christ, there must be love of the neighbor. How can we claim to love the Divine Redeemer, if we hate those whom He has redeemed with His precious blood, so that He might make them members of His Mystical Body? For that reason the beloved disciple warns us: "If any man say: 'I love God' and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God loveth his brother also."[ I John, IV, 20-21] Rather it should be said that the more we become "members one of another"[Rom., XII, 5.] "mutually careful, one for another,"[ I Cor., XII, 25] the closer we shall be united with God and with Christ; as, on the other hand, the more ardent the love that binds us to God and to our divine Head, the closer we shall be united to each other in the bonds of charity.
The Love of the Lord for us precedes Creation itself and is present on the Crib as well as on the Cross:
Now the only-begotten Son of God embraced us in His infinite knowledge and undying love even before the world began. And that He might give a visible and exceedingly beautiful expression to this love, He assumed our nature in hypostatic union: hence - as Maximus of Turin with a certain unaffected simplicity remarks - "in Christ our own flesh loves us."[Serm. XXIX: Migne, P.L., LVII, 594] But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvelous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.
A Love that is so powerful that it transcends our human limitations and is a gift of the Mystical Body to mankind -- a gift which flows only from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church:
...the Church, the Bride of Christ, is one; and yet so vast is the love of the divine Spouse that it embraces in His Bride the whole human race without exception. Our Savior shed His Blood precisely in order that He might reconcile men to God through the Cross, and might constrain them to unite in one body, however widely they may differ in nationality and race. True love of the Church, therefore, requires not only that we should be mutually solicitous one for another [Cf. Rom., XII, 5; I Cor., XII, 25] as members and sharing in their suffering [Cf. I Cor., XII, 26] but likewise that we should recognize in other men, although they are not yet joined to us in the body of the Church, our brothers in Christ according to the flesh, called, together with us, to the same eternal salvation. It is true, unfortunately, especially today, that there are are some who extol enmity, hatred and spite as if they enhanced the dignity and the worth of man. Let us, however, while we look with sorrow on the disastrous consequences of this teaching, follow our peaceful King who taught us to love not only those who are of a different nation or race,[Cf. Luke, X, 33-37] but even our enemies.[Cf. Luke, VI, 27-35; Matth.,V, 44-48] While Our heart overflows with the sweetness of the teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles, We extol with him the length, and the breadth, and the height, and the depth of the charity of Christ,[Cf. Eph., III, 18] which neither diversity of race or customs can diminish, nor trackless wastes of the ocean weaken, nor wars, whether just or unjust, destroy.
This only increases our duty to love Holy Mother Church, now and forever:
As the vastness of the charity with which Christ loved His Church is equalled by its constant activity, we all, with the same assiduous and zealous charity must love the Mystical Body of Christ. Now from the moment of His Incarnation, when he laid the first foundations of the Church, even to His last mortal breath, our Redeemer never ceased for an instant, though He was the Son of God, to labor unto weariness in order to establish and strengthen His Church, whether by giving us the shining example of His holiness, or by preaching, or conversing, or gathering and instructing disciples. And so We desire that all who claim the Church as their mother, should seriously consider that not only the clergy and those who have consecrated themselves to God in the religious life, but the other members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ as well have, each in his degree, the obligation of working hard and constantly for the building up and increase of this Body.
And may all who refuse the Charity which flows forth from the One Fold of the Church reunite themselves to the Vicar of Christ, the Vicar of Divine Charity.
We must earnestly desire that this united prayer may embrace in the same ardent charity both those who, not yet enlightened by the truth of the Gospel, are still outside the fold of the Church, and those who, on account of regrettable schism, are separated from Us, who though unworthy, represent the person of Jesus Christ on earth. Let us then re-echo that divine prayer of our Savior to the heavenly Father: "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." [John, XVII, 21]
As the words of the first encyclical of the current pontificate are made known today, Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, let us not forget, in true spirit of continuity, that they are preceded by generations of Successors of Peter who transmitted the Faith they received. The words of Benedict must not be read according to modern theologians, but according to what the Popes have always taught. Then, and only then, will his words have been read profitably.