It seems Pope Francis and I agree.

On Valentine’s Day, I suggested in our local newspaper that “Christian faith is, before anything else, a religion of love.” On the same day I was arguing that love is the heart of Christian faith, Pope Francis was inducting 20 new cardinals into the College of Cardinals in Rome.

In his remarks to the new Cardinals Francis insisted that cardinals must be men of “charity.”

“You’re incardinated in the Church of Rome, which presides over the entire assembly of charity,” he said, adding that in the Church, leadership flows from charity, must be exercised in charity, and is ordered toward charity.

I do not know what word Francis used in the language in which he made his original comments, but the English word “charity” in this context is simply a synonym for “love.” For Pope Francis the College of Cardinals is an “assembly of love”. And leadership “flows from love” and must always be “exercised in love.”

Pope Francis told the cardinals that love is the means, the power, the vehicle by which they will become free and he warned them to be vigilant resisting the temptations of jealousy, anger, pride, and self-interest that inhibit this power of love.

And in a profound acknowledgement of the subtleties of temptation for those who exercise leadership in the “assembly of love”, Pope Francis cautioned the new cardinals that the temptations that lead us away from love can at times come, “cloaked in noble appearances.”

Paul warned followers of Jesus that,

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)

For Francis, appointment to the College of Cardinals is not elevation to a position of privilege, prestige and power. It is an expansion of responsibility to love and to embody that love in practical action. The higher one rises in the hierarchy of the church, he suggests, the greater is the need to grow in love:

The greater our responsibility in serving the Church the more our hearts have to expand according to the measure of the heart of Christ. It means being able to love without measure, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures.

How do “hearts expand according to the measure of the heart of Christ”? How do we come to be “able to love without measure”? These are the fundamental questions of the Christian life. How do we grow in love?

Everything in our lives is an opportunity to allow our hearts to expand. It is actually what hearts want to do. Hearts do not want to shrivel and become tight and pinched until eventually they atrophy and die. Hearts do not want to be cold, bitter and resentful. It is not natural for hearts to withdraw into a self-protective fortress.

Hearts want to expand; it is their natural function. Love that is exercised will always grow.

Whenever I choose to take the gentler route, my heart has space to grow. When I let go of my need for security and give up my desire for the illusion of safety, my heart has the chance to expand. When I soften and open, love flows more freely in my life.

The thing about love is that it is inexhaustible. It never runs out, never fails, never comes to an end. Love will always expand to fill the available space. The key is to give love the space to grow. This means slowing down, letting go of our reactivity, defensiveness, and self-protection. It means choosing again and again not to judge, condemn or reject anyone or anything.

Paul sums up saying,

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

May the Pope’s new cardinals lead the way in fulfilling this exalted vision for our lives and the church.