St. John tells us in his first letter that “perfect love casts out fear”. Ever since our first parents ate the forbidden fruit, fear has plagued all our relationships, particularly the most intimate. Is there really such a thing as perfect love which would do away with every form of anxiety forever? Let us define our terms (as the scholastics would say) so that we can understand exactly what we are saying.
First of all, perfect comes from the Latin perfectus (done all the way through—in other words: complete) So we are talking about a love that is complete: fully given and fully received. Love is relational, so in order for any kind of completeness to exist, there must be at least two lovers who both give and receive. And what kind of love are we speaking about? It is charitas, defined as that love which wills the good of the other as other. So this is not the warm feeling we get when we are in the presence of a person who pleases us. This is not that desire for the pleasure that someone else can give to us. It is not even the loyalty and affection we feel for our family and our friends. Rather, the love we are speaking about here is that generous impulse to do good for someone for their sake no matter what the sacrifice it may cost us. In fact, suffering for this kind of love is looked upon as a golden opportunity to really give everything to the beloved, to prove unequivocally the depth of love.
Finally, what is fear? St. John tells us that “fear has to do with punishment”. We are also told by theologians that fear is that emotion which we feel when we are faced with evil. What would be the ultimate fear for the lover, the unbearable punishment for the beloved? What worst evil could be imagined than separation, abandonment, rejection?
Now that we have defined our terms, we can restate our question without ambiguity: Does there exist a completely given and received, absolutely generous love which would cast out the horrible feeling at the core of our being that we are abandoned and rejected? YES! This is the good news that needs to be shouted from the housetops.
God is this kind of love. It is His very nature. He cannot love or be otherwise than this. Jesus came to prove this love to us by sacrificing Himself in His life and especially in His death on the Cross. Jesus and His Father share this ultimate, generous love with each other and they call us to participate in it. Adam and Eve rejected this love in paradise and so became afraid, estranged from God and one another. Yet God did not reject them, nor abandon their children. Instead, He sent His Son to call all of us back into intimacy with Him. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, filled with the Father’s love, the Holy Spirit, goes into the desert to be tempted by the devil who tries to persuade Him to deviate from the path of love. But Jesus will not follow the evil one’s suggestions to egoism, self-indulgence and glorification. He comes forth from the desert in the power of His faithful love, to live, suffer and die for us. He could do this because He had fully received and fully responded to His Father’s love.
It is said that we cannot give what we do not have. St. John tells us that “if God has loved us so, we should have the same love for one another”. If we are to love as God loves, we have to first receive that love ourselves. Lent is the time to get serious about removing the obstacles to receiving this love in our hearts. . On this Valentine’s Day, the best gift we can give to our beloved is to open ourselves to God’s all generous love Then we will be able to love Him in return and those whom He has given to us to love. And if it happens that our beloved does not return our love, we will not be destroyed. Like Jesus, we will forgive and offer peace, for we are secure in the perfect, everlasting love of the Father.