|Drawing near to God
"Love of God and love of neighbour
are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment" (Deus Caritas Est,
Even if this affirmation may appear so simple as to be taken for
granted, it is one of the most demanding teachings that the Encyclical
Letter Deus Caritas Est contains. We realize this precisely when
Benedict XVI illustrates it with the example of the saints, rapidly noting
"individual testimonies" which go back ideally from Blessed Teresa of
Calcutta the first to be mentioned (cf. n. 18), and three times (cf. nn.
36, 40) to the Blessed Virgin, the One who drank "from the fountain of
God's love", becoming a wellspring herself (cf. n. 42).
The middle course is then marked by a few who "stand out as lasting
models of social charity", who were "true bearers of light within history"
Indeed, the Pontiff has compiled a short list, revisiting that "history
of charity": from the "vivid expression" the deacon Lawrence gave it in
the past (cf. n. 23), to Martin of Tours, a true and popular "icon of
charity", from St. Anthony Abbot, who founded the monastic movement and
whose "immense service of charity" extended down the centuries, to St.
Francis of Assisi, who inaugurated the Mendicant movement, and to St.
Ignatius of Loyola, precursors of all modern religious institutes.
The Pope then moves on to the holy inventors of modern hospitals (St.
John of God and St. Camillus of Lellis), to St. Vincent de Paul and St.
Louise de Marillac (true geniuses of charity, convinced that charity was
"infinitely creative"), to the great Piedmontese social Saints (St. Joseph
Benedict Cottolengo, St. John Bosco, St. Luigi Orione), to the outstanding
charity personified by Teresa of Calcutta (cf. n. 40). And obviously,
thousands of other names could be added.
However, it is precisely the concluding reference to the Blessed Virgin
that gives us the key to their secret: "In the saints one thing becomes
clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather
become truly close to them. In no one do we see this more clearly than in
Mary" (n. 42).
One love, for God and neighbour
In the saints, in fact, the impulse of love of God and love of
neighbour can seem to us to be a "dual incentive", even if it is
profoundly one; in Mary, instead, its perfect and inseparable unity is
Indeed, what is the miracle of the Incarnation other than the ineffable
coming of God who made himself "close to Mary", dwelling in her womb, her
heart and her mind, her sentiments and her emotions, her house and her
No one is as "close" to the mother as the child she bears in her womb;
no one is as close to the child as the mother who feeds him herself. And
this closeness makes itself felt throughout life. In Jesus, therefore, God
became "neighbour" to Mary and Mary was able to love God as "her first
The Blessed Virgin could no longer distinguish between the two
commandments of the Old Law. And the New Covenant was founded and built
precisely on this.
Furthermore, what is the Incarnation in itself other than divine
nature's indissoluble spousal embrace of human nature? The dogma of
Chalcedon is no more than the attempt to express and with conceptual
passion and tenderness that ineffable "closeness" between the two
natures so that, in the very Person of Jesus, this closeness may be
absolute and not blotted out by undue confusion.
No discourse on the unity of the two great commandments of love will be
conclusively convincing if we do not pause at length to contemplate their
unification in the events of Mary's life, from the moment she gave her
"She speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes
her word, and her word issues from the Word of God. Here we see how her
thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the
will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is
able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate" (n. 41).
On the other hand, the nucleus of the entire evangelical episode the
whole account of the days in which Jesus personally formed his first
saints is deeply buried in the same truth: through their Teacher, in
fact, the disciples gradually learned that God had made himself their
neighbour and lived the ineffable adventure of knowing that they were "neighbours"
of the Son of God.
An event of closeness
What they should then have proclaimed (that is, having seen the Word of
life with their own eyes, touched him with their own hands and heard him
with their own ears) was precisely the miracle of a God who came down
incarnate, to love and to be loved as a friend loves his friend, as a
bridegroom loves and is loved by his bride: it was an event of
"closeness", both human and divine.
John the Evangelist made this truth visible and powerful when he ended
his Gospel (the proclamation that had to be preached to the world!) with
Jesus' threefold question to Peter: "Do you love me more than these?", the
exact question which acts as a prelude to the closest embrace in this
Remembering this "Christological" root of the unity of the two
commandments is absolutely necessary if we want to understand the
testimony of the saints.
When, for example, people mention "saints of charity" (but basically,
aren't they all?), how can we forget that they did not draw charity for
their neighbour from a previous, separate love of God, but experienced it
as an embodiment of the one Love?
The saints would have bristled at the thought that Christ could be
considered a "motive", a "cause", an "ideal" in whose name they were
acting. And even more, they would have wept at the mere thought that their
charity might be used in order to forget Christ or to "betray him" in the
truth of his person.
It is often forgotten that for them, the "law of reversibility" totally
applied: if on the one hand, they knew that "all that is done for the poor
is done for Christ", on the other, they were even more convinced that "all
that is done for Christ is done for the poor".
Only think, for example, of what the Church has had to suffer in recent
times because certain Christians, fascinated by projects of social
liberation, went so far as to seriously damage the truth about God, about
Christ and about his Church in the name of their cause.
The saints would immediately have objected that by letting the fire of
truth and love for Christ die down, the flame of social charity would
sooner or later have been extinguished or transformed into indiscriminate
violence, even against the poor themselves. The saints would never have
imagined that they could enrich the poor or permitted the image of the
Lord to be distorted or to fade.
This also explains a certain "spiritual interweaving" that they
perceived to be necessary, even when it was not immediately obvious to
those who are anxious for action.
For instance, it is really impossible to understand the close
connection between the pressing needs of charity and the long periods
spent in Eucharistic Adoration on which Mother Teresa of Calcutta founded
her Institute (cf. nn. 18, 36) unless one grasps the incandescent nucleus
also from the pedagogical viewpoint on which she based her experience.
"Lingering" in contemplation of the Eucharistic Species (the point of
the maximum incarnation, hence, of the "greatest proximity" of God's love
for each human being, the point at which God makes himself "so close" as
to let himself be assimilated by us and to let us be assimilated to him)
was for Mother Teresa and her daughters the one source of their subsequent
capacity for gazing at length also upon the "sacred species" of sick and
agonizing bodies approaching death, perceiving in them the same mystery of
proximity in the same form of extreme annihilation.
In reviewing the events of the saints' lives, we always witness the
same miracle of "incarnation": God makes himself close to man and man
makes himself close to God, to the extent that even those saints whom God
called to the unum necessarium of uninterrupted contemplation found
that their hearts were then flooded by an indescribable love for every
Thus, St Thιrθse of Lisieux asked
her Jesus to embrace her ever more intensely, certain that she would bring
with her "all those whom God entrusted to her" (cf. Autobiography,
Manual C, 34r-35r).
The Servant of God Mons. Vladimir Ghika, a Saint of our time and the
most famous martyr of the Communist persecution in Romania, has bequeathed
to us a particularly beautiful text in French with the meaningful title:
La liturgie du Prochain (The Liturgy of our Neighbour), to explain
that benefiting the poor means "celebrating the encounter of Jesus with
He wrote: "A twofold and mysterious liturgy: the poor person sees
Christ come to him under the species of the one who helps him and the
benefactor sees the suffering Christ appearing in the poor over whom he
"However, for this very reason it is a single liturgy. In fact, if the
gesture is properly made, on both sides there is only Christ: Christ the
Saviour moves towards the Suffering Christ, and they are
integrated in the Risen and glorious Christ in the act of
Basically, he added, "it is a matter of extending Mass throughout the
day and throughout the world, like a concentric wave that ripples outwards
from Eucharistic Communion in the morning...".
The saints all agree on this: Love that is poured out upon the world
and pervades it is one.
The Encyclical then ends with a final allusion that gladdens the heart.
The love the saints received from God and which they themselves
reciprocated and offered their neighbour urged by that Jesus who
embraced all of them to the innermost depths of their soul did not end
with the episodes of their lives in this world: "The lives of the saints
are not limited to their earthly biographies but also include their being
and working in God after death" (n. 42).
Today, our hope of being able to love God and our neighbour with a
single heartbeat and deeply-rooted fervour is also sustained by the
certainty that we belong to a lively family of saints.