Only people who love, and love in concrete ways -- not just with words -- can know God because God is love, Pope Francis said.
"Whoever loves, knows God; whoever does not love has not known God because God is love, but not soap opera love. No, no. Solid, strong love, eternal love, a love-made manifest," he said Thursday at his morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
The pope celebrated the Mass for the victims of a deadly terrorist attack by masked gunmen on the offices of a satirical weekly newspaper in Paris. At least 12 people were killed and another 11 wounded in the attack Wednesday. Before delivering his homily, the pope said the attack made one see how much cruelty the human being is capable of, and he asked for prayers for the victims and for the perpetrators so that the Lord would "change their hearts," the pope said, according to Vatican Radio.
The pope's homily focused on the day's reading from the First Book of John (4:19-5:4), which speaks of God loving humanity first and the necessity of loving others in order to love God.
How are people able to come to know God? the pope asked. Reason and intellect are not enough, he said; it takes love, accompanied by reason, but by loving most of all.
"God is love. And it is only on the path of love that you can know God," he said.
The path is gradual and begins with loving others concretely, demonstrating love with "works of love and not words. It takes your whole life to know God, a journey of love, of familiarity, of love for the other, of love for those who hate us, of love for everyone," he said.
God's love for his children always comes before their love for him, somewhat like the almond tree flower, he said, which is the first to bloom before the coming spring.
"We will always have this surprise," he said, that of finding out that God's love has come first and that he has been waiting for and loving humanity all along.
"When we get close to God through acts of charity, prayer, in Communion, in the Word of God," he said, "we find that he is there, ahead of us, waiting for us -- that is how he loves us."
God is there ready to teach and guide all people who have lost their way, Pope Francis said. "He is our father who loves us so much, who is always ready to forgive us. Always. Not once but 70 times seven. Always."
"To know this God, who is love, we have to go up these steps of love for the other, of works of charity and of works of mercy that the Lord has taught us," the pope said.