What is Love?
This is a question that has been asked throughout all of history. Many poets, songwriters and philosophers have sought to provide an answer to people of every age and yet people continue to ask and to seek a love that will fulfill the deepest desires and longings of their hearts. For we were made to love and to be loved, and our hearts are restless until we find it. God is love and thus we should look to the author of life to find authentic love and an example of how to give it and what to expect from others.
While love is described throughout scripture, St. Paul provides an excellent synopsis in the 13th chapter of first Corinthians.
“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.”
This is the ideal of love we should strive to achieve, if we fall short, we should go to confession, retreat to prayer and implore the help of God to do better. The goal of the Christian life is to love as God loves, we must achieve it before we enter Heaven lest we would die of shame in the presence of pure love (The Holy Trinity). The saints have all overcome much (some more than others) to love as God loves. There are many examples of saints who live out this God-like love such as St. Theresa of Calcutta, St. John Bosco, Sts. Louis and Marie Martin, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St. John Paul II and my patron St. Francis Xavier. Each of these holy men and women came from very different families, were from different parts of the world, lived in different centuries and were called to very different vocations, yet each of them learned to love the people that God put in their path just as God loves them.
In Chapter 4 of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis provides an outstanding, practical exegesis (extensive explanation of scripture) of St. Paul’s passage on love. We were made to Love, and thus it benefits us to personally perfect our ability to love one another. It is also our duty as parents to teach our children how to love. To this end, I will attempt to provide practical advice on how to create an atmosphere of love within our domestic churches.
Love is Patient
Pope Francis says that a love that is patient is one that “does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense”. If we look to scripture we see God’s “patience” shown in his mercy towards sinners. Pope Francis tells us that “patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are…Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person … even when he or she acts differently than I would like.”
Within a family it is often a temptation to lose your patience when someone doesn’t have the same abilities as we do, but we must remember that the family is a school of life, where the parents and older siblings have an opportunity to share knowledge, wisdom and experience. It is helpful to remember that we didn’t always know how to do things perfectly and perhaps we still don’t know everything. Humility is the cure to a lack of patience.
Pope Francis provides some practical advice on specific behaviors to avoid in order to exercise patience in love within the family. He reminds us that being patient is not allowing other people to treat us poorly, but that we should not expect other people to be perfect and not put our needs above the needs of others. He cautions us that unless we cultivate patience, we will always be able to justify an angry response to those who aren’t perfect. This attitude will lead to family members being unable to control their impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds.
He concludes his reflection by asserting that “Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like.”
The Rest of the Story
Pope Francis begins the 4th chapter of Amoris Laetitia by proposing that “we cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love” and that “the word “love”, however, is commonly used and often misused.” Over the next several weeks, we will delve into the other lines of St. Paul’s summary of the true nature of love.
Authentic love does’t hurt, it heals. As we ponder the Love of God, let us be open to embracing a love that takes chances, that gives until it hurts and one that can truly transform our families and the world into a better place.