Jesus starts his mission with his baptism by John the Baptist. He who has no sins to confess and be washed clean of, is instead proclaimed by the Father: ‘this is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’
The Son of God, loved by the Father and full of the Holy Spirit, sets out to proclaim God’s love to the world and to a sinful humanity. Through Jesus, true God and true man, humanity now can, once again, regain the life of God it enjoyed at creation.
Love also inspired Joseph De Piro, who reflected upon its nature and effects.
1. In the homilies
Among De Piro’s homilies are five that speak about love. These homilies are in note form. De Piro writes:
St John says: God is love (1Jn 4:8). God is honoured with the name of love. Love converts the world into heaven; hell is where there is no love.
We are motivated to love because this is God’s will.
The Apostle St John always recommend love. St Jerome narrates when John was old, he requested to be taken to church to preach on feast days: ‘Little children, love one other.’ Why did he always preach the same thing? ‘Because this is a commandment from the Lord, and observing this is enough.’ When did the Lord give us this commandment? At the Last Supper, after the washing of the feet; he repeated this command three times: (1) This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (Jn 15:12); (2) I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another (Jn 15:17); (3) I give you a new commandment, that you love one another (Jn 13:34a).
‘Just as I have loved you.’ (Jn 13:34b) How did Jesus love us? He emptied himself (Phil 2:7); he became one like us, enduring hunger, thirst, exhaustion, poverty and all sort of anguish, giving up his blood, his own life.
A commandment: ‘I give you a new commandment …. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13:34-35)
This is God’s will, to die among us.
How can we be so ungrateful as to refuse to obey this commandment? In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians, ‘… were of one heart and soul ….’ (Ac 4:32)
Through a life of suffering and denial, St Francis of Assisi wrote a golden page in the history of Love towards God, and ‘Love never ends.’ … I invite you to reflect for a few moments on what made Francis so great: love, charity! ‘Love never ends.’
The first sign of love is, when the person who loves, remembers the one who is being helped. St Francis saw God everywhere and in all created beings; he therefore calls them his brothers and sisters, because they all helped him contemplate God, the focus of his love. He observed the birds in the sky, heard them sing, and felt drawn to join them in praising God. He saw the lambs in the fields and remembered Jesus who, though innocent, died for sinners. He touched the water and remembered Jesus who used water to cleanse people through Baptism. He looked at the flowers in the fields and contemplated the divine flower that shot up from the stock of Jesse, and filled the whole world with its fragrance. He saw Jesus Christ in the poor, the cripple, the sick, and the leper; captivated by love, he embraced them, consoled them and praised God with them. ‘Love never ends.’
Love manifests itself in a person’s need to imitate the one he loves. Francis fixed his gaze on the Son of God, who became man to act as a model for humanity. Francis looked and observed Jesus born in poverty, in a stable, surrounded by animals. Immediately, he renounced to all worldly goods, to lead a life of extreme poverty. ‘Love never ends.’
The greatest proof of love is to be willing to give up one’s life for the person one loves (cf Jn 15:13). Francis, consumed with love towards God and towards his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, without hesitation leaves Italy and travels across the Mediterranean. Eager to be martyred for God, he presents himself to the successor of Saladin. But God asked him to prove his love in other ways. ‘Love never ends.’
One day, as he contemplated the words of the prayer of the Our Father, Francis was struck with the opening words: ‘Holy be your name, your kingdom come!’ (Mt 6:9) He was taken up with love for Jesus and filled with fervour to expand God’s kingdom on earth. He immediately set out to look for companions to help him in this work. First he enlisted three, then another four, and, without waiting for others to join them, they set out in groups of two, towards the four corners of the world….
2. In the constitutions of his missionary society
In the second part of the constitutions, the founder wrote about the vows and the virtues that the members of his society were expected to live. The third virtue is love:
Everyone should be convinced of the need for reciprocal love towards one another. The power and effectiveness of our society’s pastoral work for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity, depends on the extent to which members are united among themselves.
This bond can only be possible and attainable, if members accept and tolerate the defects and weaknesses of each another…. Inspired by St Paul’s words: ‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Gal 6:2), we should always be ready to carry each other’s burdens, and have as our first priority the well-being of the others, not our own personal interests.
All members should be careful and discreet when they speak of themselves and of each other. They should never lower the esteem of their brothers; rather they should consider others as better then themselves, being attentive and respectful in their regard of one another.
One should not give orders to others, unless he has the authority to do so.
One should always try to help others, both when he is asked to do so and also when he is not asked, especially if he knows that his help will be appreciated by his brothers and sisters. Without going beyond what is possible, or what he can endure, one should always try his best to help satisfy other people’s needs.
When missionaries need to correct one another, first they need to examine their intentions, and then do the corrections with gentleness and with lots of love.
May they always be ready to forgive when they hurt others, or when, due to people’s weaknesses, they are hurt themselves. One should think of it as being an honour to be the first to offer an apology, leading to true reconciliation, even if it was not his fault or when someone is hurt without it being his fault.
Reconciliation should not be postponed to the next day, following the words of St Paul: ‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger’ (Eph 4:26), and never go to sleep before being reconciled.
Living this type of love and imitating the words of the apostle, the missionary would have the courage to say: ‘Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved’ (1 Cor 10:33).
2.1 The Canticle of Love
The founder placed a commentary on St Paul’s Canticle of Love in the constitution. This commentary resembles St Gregory the Great’s commentary on the book of Job. (Bk 10, 7-8; PL 75, 922. 925-926 (Cf Liturgy of the Hours, 8th Week during the Year, Office of Readings, Thursday).)
Love is always patient; it endures calmly any harm it suffers.
Love is always ready to excuse; it repays wrong with good.
Love is not jealous; it is not envious of other people’s wealth.
Love is never boastful; it does not boast about material wealth.
Love is never conceited; because it is not unjust, malicious or ambitious. God is enough; He is its real joy.
Love is not selfish; it considers nothing its own except God alone.
Love is never choleric; it does not remember any offences it receives nor takes revenge on those who cause it any harm.
Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins; it delights in the truth and always thinks of what is good in others. (cf 1Co 13:4-7)
3. In his will
On 15th March 1932, the Servant of God presented his will in the Second Hall of the Maltese Civil Courts; this will was made public on 26th September 1933:
I ask forgiveness to all who, in any way, could have been offended by any of my actions in the course of carrying out my various duties. If I have offended anyone, I ask that it be understood this was caused by my human weakness and not by hatred.
To the members of the society, without any distinction: I earnestly request superiors and subjects to do their utmost to love one another in Christ. They must be confident that, as testified by St Paul, our Father, nothing greater than love gives glory to God, benefits the society, and is of spiritual advantage to themselves and their neighbour.