Love is an often misunderstood word. We use it to mean so many different things. I love pizza. I love my wife. The word “love” is used in the two previous sentences in two very different ways. When I do things for my wife in hopes that she has what is good, it means I put her needs over mine so she may have what is good and be happy. When I do things for pizza in hopes that pizza has what is good, it just means I put lots of cheese and pepperoni on the pizza. It is the love we give another human person is what I want to talk about.
Love is to will what is best for the other. What is best for the other is God. So, we want what God wants for the other. For me this sometimes means taking the trash out for my wife. What does taking the trash out have to do with God? It is an act of service to my wife, an act that says, “I will do this unpleasant thing so you don’t have to do it.” This is what Jesus commanded us to do when He washed His disciples feet. When I perform acts of service for my wife, just as God does for us, I treat her like God would treat her. I bring the love of God, through me, to her, because it is God who commanded me to love.
So, you only love your wife because God says you have to do it?
Well, yes. However, I also want to do it and must choose it myself. As well, I could not do it without God. Love is impossible for us without God’s grace. God empowers us to love by transforming us into the image of Jesus through our cooperation with the sacraments. After we receive a sacrament we must then make use of it. We have not made use of a sacrament until we take the divine love grafted into us by the Holy Spirit… and give it away – to both God and each other.
He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. -1 John 4:8-9
St. John tells us that “God is love.” This is because the Holy Spirit is the perfect love between the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is God, so God is Love. God is three divine persons in one divine nature – and God’s nature is to love.
Loving my teenage daughter may mean me telling her to take out the trash. I am responsible for teaching my daughter how to love like God loves. By doing this I am loving her and helping her be closer to God. Love wants what is good for the other, so they may be happy, but the good may not be what the other wants or realizes is good, and the happiness may not come right away.
Love is an action. It is an act of the will. We have to choose to love. I am not talking about the emotion of love. The emotion of love is an attraction to someone. Over time the emotion can develop into strong feelings we hold dear, but we cannot depend on them. While they can help us to love, we also must love when there is no emotion. Or even more difficult, when the emotion is negative.
You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? -Matthew 5:43-47
Jesus was not telling us to have warm and fuzzy feelings about our enemies. Indeed He understands that we don’t. Jesus is telling us that loving those we have good feelings for is not as great as loving those we have no feelings for, or negative feelings for. He wants us to pray for them and do what is best for them as far as possible. When Jesus commanded love, He was commanding us to make a choice – to put the other first so they may have what is good and be happy.
The mistake of believing that love is primarily a feeling has been disastrous for marriages. So many couples get divorced because they, “fell out of love.” I challenge you to find a couple married for more than 5 years who have felt “in love” the entire time. Marriage is not something we are compelled to do because our emotions are in charge, and neither is divorce. Marriage is a choice to commit yourself to love someone, to “promise to be faithful to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.” You’re not promising warm feelings all the time, and you should not expect them. Yes, sometimes separating from your spouse is the only thing you can do, but not because your feelings have changed. And like the teaching Jesus gives above about loving our enemies, when we love without the help of positive emotions, it is a greater kind of love.
So, love is a choice we make. Regardless of how we feel, we should love. And when we love, we are patient and kind; not jealous or boastful; not arrogant or rude. When we love we do not insist on our own way; and are not irritable or resentful. When we love we do not rejoice at wrong, but rejoice in the right. When we love, we bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things. (Adapted from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. -John 15:9-12