St. John, in rapturous prose, takes us to the heights of the transcendent mystery in three, short, stabbing syllables when he writes, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16). This is no mere philosophical speculation concerning metaphysics; no, these gilded words evidence the inestimable value of the knowledge of God rightly appreciated. The Apostle declares that the ultimate ground of being is to be found in the selfless givenness of the Holy. For what is love but beneficence and a sharing of one’s self with another? In our case, the kindly outpouring of the Infinite into finitude—treasure in earthen vessels. The life of mutual love enjoyed in the Godhead is shed abroad in a creation born of charity. We exist in, and through, and for, the ceaseless love of the Eternal God.
We are too often tempted to conceive of this sacred reality in a most sentimental fashion. Love, stripped of its robes woven in unapproachable light, has been adorned in fashionable dress; familiar, common, domesticated. For us, love has become that which embraces everything that is unlovely, and is content to leave all things as it finds them. Our tendency is to think of love in terms of complacency. On this view, love—at its core—leaves well enough alone.
But this is to misunderstand the nature of divine love. Love is that gift which, when given, glorifies its object and excites a joyful reciprocity in the process. The Father loves and glorifies the Son; the Son loves and glorifies the Father; the Spirit is loved and glorified by both the Father and the Son and compels the same again. When this love is directed toward humanity, it glorifies mankind by transforming them into creatures made lovely by Love, and constrains them to raise their hearts in glory to the One who has made all things for Himself. In this way, divine love is the true sursum corda, turning the affections of earthbound creatures toward the gates of heaven.
Love, then, is a most fearful thing. For love loves unto holiness. Love desires the loveliness of its object. Where that loveliness is devoid or incomplete, and love cannot find its own likeness, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love all the more; striving for perfection that it may itself be perfected in its object. Thus, all that is not loveable in the beloved, all that hinders glorification and is not love’s kind, must be torn asunder. Love demands a new creation. For love is a consuming fire, and we shall be saved, “so as by fire.”
So, what is love but the burning of God? What is our glory but dross consumed and gold refined by the white-hot flame? In painful mercy, love comes to us on seraphic wings, brandishing coals from Calvary’s altar. It is sanctifying love that purges our iniquities and melts away our sins. It is love that calls out, “Who shall go and speak for us?” while cleansing our lips by its holy fire.
Love trims the lamps of God on earth, fueled by the seven spirits of burning. Love lights the torch of repentance and stokes the hearth of holiness. Love engulfs the hell in our hearts with its own sacred heat. Ah! So that when we have so proclaimed the love of God, and our parishioners have so heard the voice of the Bridegroom, they cannot help but say, “Did not our hearts burn within us?”