November 2022 - Some thoughts about love
I have been giving a lot of thought to love these days. This was brought on by a sign I saw during my travels between my parishes — St. Matthew in Limerick and St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Sanford. The sign, which was a list of things the homeowner believes, included, among other things, that “love is love.” I do a lot of thinking as I travel — I don’t just try to avoid getting caught speeding. What exactly does “love is love” mean? I know what it is supposed to mean, but as Christians, love has a very specific meaning.
First, we need to cast off the thought of love as a feeling. Love is not something that changes with the wind. Our feelings are impacted by love, but so is everything else in our lives when we are truly in love. Love is also not the same thing as infatuation. We certainly can appreciate the beauty, the wisdom, the humor of another person, but love is more about the whole person. When we are infatuated with another person, our feelings wane as we discover they are not who we thought they were.
Beyond this, we need to understand that the love we have for ice cream or our new car is not the same love we have for our spouse or our children. The fact is that while we have great appreciation of ice cream, while we may enjoy all the bells and whistles that our new car has, these things really are not worthy of our love. Again, this type of love is all about feeling. Once the new car smell is gone, once we must make the first payment, or once we discover that we are lactose intolerant, we no longer feel the same way about our car or ice cream.
So, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, what is love? Love is an act of the will. It is the intentional and deliberate choice to work for the good of our beloved. Love, for followers of Jesus Christ, is the choice and the commitment to do all that we can to make our beloved holy and extraordinary, to make sure our beloved gets into heaven.
Love then has very little to do with how we feel and much to do with how we care for one another. Love, rather than assigning value to others by their outward appearance, seeks to see the other as God sees them. True love looks beyond the imperfections, beyond the sins, beyond the attitudes to see the desire of every heart to be loved and to love. True love indeed looks to the depths of the beloved and, with holy wisdom, holy patience, and holy generosity, appreciates the presence of Christ in the other. True love honestly seeks the good in the other.
True love does not simply affirm but often challenges. True love calls others to the good that exists in them. True love, with holy humility, points the beloved in a new direction, challenges the other to see things in a way that leads to holiness, and sometimes even offers consequences for harmful or destructive behavior. True love is not easy; it requires patience and humility; it requires generosity and loyalty. True love requires one to be all in. Love is not something in which we can just dabble.
Once we understand what true love is, and please understand that all I have said above is just the beginning of what true love is, we can begin to understand that not all love is the same. The relationship we have with our parents is supposed to be our first experience of holy love. These are the people who plant the seeds of love for our lifetime. Parents’ love lives on long after they have reached their eternal reward. The love we have for our spouse is the primary love that is responsible for making us the best version of ourselves we can be. In this relationship, love, in all its aspects, including the physical expression of love, is not only fruitful but unites the lovers in a sacred bond. In our truest friendships, we find love that rejoices and celebrates the joy that comes from intimate friendship. These relationships, built on trust and generosity, bring us happiness and can be very effective in helping us to be the extraordinary people we were meant to be.
Ultimately, as followers of Jesus Christ, we look to the cross of Christ to see that there should be no limits to our love. On the cross, we see Jesus’ arms wide open in a sign of love. On the cross, Jesus’ limitless and unconditional love is on display for all to see. On the cross of Christ, we are witnesses to love that changes the world.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, may also have been dealing with a culture that had forgotten what love is. For this reason, he sent them his famous ode to love which is read at most weddings. This passage of Scripture has endured the test of time and is worthy of being on a sign on our front lawns, on our refrigerators, and certainly imprinted in our hearts. So, after all I have said about love, I leave it to St. Paul to fill in the blanks:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that
I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a).
Father Wilfred Labbe is pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Lime
rick and St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Sanford.