ROME — Even though some might feel that their ability to love others is based on their own efforts or goodness, Pope Francis reminded the faithful during his general audience on Wednesday that love is always and ultimately a gift from God.
“We are called to love, to charity: this is our highest calling, our vocation for excellence,” he said March 15, asking: “How can we be sure that our love is sincere, that our charity is genuine?
“Behind all this there is a false idea, that is to say, if we love, it is because we are good; as if charity were man’s creation, a product of our heart. Charity, however, is first and foremost a grace, a gift; to love is a gift of God, and we have to ask. And He gives it willingly, if we ask it.”
Showing love to others, Francis said, is not something that we do to shine a light on who or what we are, but to show better who God is, and what he freely gives to us.
And the only way we can express this in our encounters with others is if we have encountered it first in the “gentle and merciful face of Jesus.” Without this, our charity is in danger of being hypocritical, he said.
Speaking during the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis reflected on the passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which says: “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.
“Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord,” the passage continues. “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.”
These things are not easy to do, the pope said, but clarified that the words of St. Paul are not a reproach of all the times we fail or do not live up to the commandments.
Instead, these words give us the grace of realizing that we cannot love perfectly on our own, but that “we need the Lord to continually renew this gift in our hearts, through the experience of his infinite mercy,” he said.
“Paul invites us to recognize that we are sinners, and that our way of loving is marked by sin. At the same time, however, he is the bearer of a new proclamation of hope: the Lord opens before us a way of liberation, of salvation.”
Above all, we have hope, he said, because even in our own failures we know that “God’s love never fails,” and if we ask, he will give us the grace to love more perfectly.
“The Risen Lord who lives among us…is able to heal our heart: he does, if we ask it,” he said. “It is he who allows us, despite our littleness and poverty, to experience the compassion of the Father, and to celebrate the wonders of his love.”
“Indeed, it is God himself who, taking residence in our hearts and in our lives, continues to be close and to serve all those we meet every day on our journey,” he said.
When we invite God into our hearts, allowing ourselves to be loved by him, only then can we sincerely act out the great commandment “to become instruments of God’s love,” Pope Francis said.
“And then, yes, we will return to appreciate the little things, simple and ordinary; and we will be able to love others as God loves them, wanting their good; that they be saints, friends of God.”
The pope concluded by saying that in doing this, we will “be happy for the chance to get closer to the poor and humble, as Jesus is with each of us when we are away from him, to bend at the foot of brothers, as he, the Good Samaritan, does with each of us, with his compassion and forgiveness.”