"I have loved you, says the Lord.
But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’" - Malachi 1:2 (NRSV)
Ravi Zacharias preached on this passage the other day, it breaks your heart to think that this is how we humans react to God. God says he loves us an we question "how have you loved us".
A Baptist preacher once told me that we can't love anyone at all unless we see the love Christ has poured on us and allow it to overflow. Our love for God, ourselves, and our neighbour has to come from God, and only then will we be able to love.
I was listening to an exposition of the same preacher on "Splagnidzomai" which he said was the Greek word for compassion. It was the feeling of a churning of the bowels. Jesus is said to have looked at the crowds and have "splagnidzomai". When we understand the compassion and love Christ has for us, it changes our hearts.
This is pretty basic Christianity, but I'm always amazed at how easily I forget it, and how transformative it is. A friend was smoking weed near me once and laughing at my "morality", and he said "Do you think God really cares?". I pointed to the golden crucifix he was wearing and said "he seemed to care enough to die for it (his sin)". Suddenly he was quiet.
St. John of the Cross says that whenever we have difficulty in life, we should look at the cross and be silent. I think that's true, but we should remember the cross for an important reason. Not just asceticism or redemptive suffering, but understand that we were bought at a price. That Jesus freely accepted the cross, he embraced it, because of his love for us. Where Protestantism always emphasized faith, I've found it an interesting change to see how much Catholicism always emphasizes love.
Pope Benedict writes beautifully on the sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the mass arguing that the Cross while a place of punishment, should first and foremost be seen as a place of love:
"Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." - John 13:1 (NRSV)
I'm planning on reading the rest of Deus est Caritas, (God is Love) Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical.