When I was a kid, I used to think if I just worked harder at building virtue (good habits) and did not give in to vices (bad habits), I could earn God’s love. Well, it just doesn’t work that way.
You see, God’s love (also called charity) is a pure gift from him to be received and shared. The spiritual gift of love is the only type of love that fulfills the deepest longings of our hearts. Like all gifts, it must first be received and cherished, and then it allows us to love ourselves and others as God does.
Of all the possible virtues that are a gift from God, love is the greatest as St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The type of love St. Paul is referring to is charity. Such a love is very different from what I mean when I say I love reading, nature, chocolate, human friendships, animals and rural life. I love these things because they bring delight to me on a natural level. The gift of each of these natural goods is to be enjoyed as God desires, but they can’t compare to the amazing spiritual delights of joy and peace that come from God’s very own life in us through charity.
This kind of love, God’s love dwelling within us, satisfies our deepest longings. That is how incredible God’s love is, that we actually share in the communion of love God the Father shares with the Son, and the Father and Son share with the Holy Spirit. That communion of love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is manifested to us by God the Father creating us in love, God the Son redeeming us in love, and the Holy Spirit sharing God’s love with us through grace (spiritual gifts). It is true that we, too, can share in the communion of love of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in turn love others and ourselves with the gift of God’s love.
Here is how spiritual love works: God gives us his spiritual love, and we receive it, relish it, return it to him and share it with others and ourselves. And while we can’t “earn” God’s love, we can dispose ourselves to receive his love by choosing to follow his commandments and will, because that is what is best for us.
What is so awesome about God’s love received and shared is that it seeks and delights in receiving and sharing what is good for the other. The fruits of such love produce wonderful interior spiritual delights which fulfill, enrich and produce a desire to share the goodness of God’s love.
One can rightly say, it is so awesome to be “in love,” meaning “in charity” because charity is the fulfillment of our purpose in life. It is an incredible experience when we as humans are raised above our human limitations by allowing God to fill us with his own divine life through grace and love as he loves. Through the years, I have come to discover that when I lose the focus on what I want and instead refocus outwardly toward God, receive his spiritual love, and then seek that for others, I am happier. This is what St. John Paul II referred to as the “law of the gift”: by focusing more on others, I—perhaps paradoxically—am more fulfilled myself.
God the Father’s love is shown in his desire to share the very life of charity that he, the Son and the Holy Spirit share with us. For his part, Jesus demonstrates his love by taking on all the sin of the world and offering himself, in his humanity, up for us to save us from sin by dying on the cross. As he himself put it, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). And finally, the Holy Spirit continues to love us by lavishing upon us this divine love, especially in the sacraments. God’s grace—yet another term for this divine love—is given to us by the Holy Spirit in all of the sacraments, and in this way we see the Holy Spirit’s love manifested.