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A Crisis of Love, Part 2

What Love Is

Agnus Dei, by Francisco de Zurbarán, c. 1635–1640.

Last time around, I spent a great deal of time rambling about what love is not. In my last of my poorly-written paragraphs, I laid out the basic idea of this sequel and, in more than one way, epitome of the first part of this article.

Love is one of those things that is difficult to abstractly define. It can be done, and many have done so, but the good thing is that us non-theologians (or, in some cases, armchair theologians) need not throw ourselves into philosophical treatises and the like (thought it may be advisable), since we can learn through example. And, in the case of defining love, the example is brought forth by Christ Himself.

Considering the entire corpus of teachings laid down by Christ, I believe we can derive one rather short definition. It is not perfect by any means, but it does serve as a model. Without further ado, here it goes:

Love is the complete, selfless giving of the lover to the beloved.

Now that we have a basic statement jotted down, we can perform a dissection of it to gain further understanding of it through the understanding of its components. In order to do this, I’ll switch some of the parts around for the sake of building a more cohesive and coherent argument.

Love Is a Complete Giving of Oneself

What I mean by this may seem rather obvious, because it is. Still, allow me to explain using, of course, our beloved example and guideline of love: Christ. If one analyzes the acts of love performed by the Son of God during His time on this world, we realize that they are always performed with certain “completeness”. When Christ gives Himself to us He doesn’t do so in parts. In the Eucharist, for example, He doesn’t give up merely His body, or merely His blood, or merely His soul, or merely His divinity. He gives them all. He gives Himself up completely, even in the tiniest portion of the host or in the smallest drop contained in the chalice.

The same most apply to us, in this definition of love. That’s why we must say that, when we ought perform an act of love, we must do so with complete devotion to the matter. Our body and our soul must be fully invested in it. That’s the only way giving oneself up for the beloved makes any sense.

Following the same line of thought, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to love in theory while not having actions spark from that love. If you say you love something it must be backed up with your actions. This is only natural. If love is complete, it completely changes you, both when you receive it and when you give it.

Once more, look at Christ. Every action of His is imbued with His love for us. Every joyful moment. Every sorrowful moment. Every glorious moment. All imbued with His love for us. He became man in the Incarnation because of His love for us. He instituted the Eucharist because of His love for us. He carried the Cross and died in it, because of His love for us. He defeated death and resurrected, because of His love for us. You see? Christ’s love (which ultimately is what we should aim to mimic) is complete in the sense that it can be seen in every single action He takes. If you don’t believe me, go pray a Rosary and try to find, ultimately, what each of the mysteries leads to (hint: true, complete love).

Love Is a Selfless Giving of Oneself

If love is complete, it also is selfless. True love doesn’t exist to get something out of it. In fact, think about a great act of love. It may be extraordinary, like Christ’s Crucifixion or His Resurrection, but try to think about rather “ordinary” ones. Say, for example, a mother woken up in the middle of the night by her child’s weeping (I raised the same example last time around, if you recall). Sure, you could argue she only runs to comfort her child to go back to sleep, but that’s a bit cynical. Isn’t it also true that she runs to her child’s aid without anything to gain? Following this idea of a mother’s love for her child, may I direct you to the story of King Salomon and the baby. Don’t we see the real mother willing to lose access to the child herself in exchange of keeping him alive? That’s an act of love. She doesn’t expect anything back, nor has a secret agenda. She loves her child and that’s it.

Now, on to the extraordinary. Following Christ’s acts (which we’ve already established to be complete givings of Himself to us, His beloved) we will see that not one, not a single one, carries some sort of agenda with particular interests. If anything, His sole interest and agenda is us. Just go look at your favorite segment from the Gospels. If you delve deep enough, you’ll see it: His love for us impregnates every single act He does and every single word He says. Even driving the money changers out of the temple is a an act of love (as we established last time around).

The Greatest Act of Love of All Time

Taking the notions discussed here to define what love is and those discussed in the previous article to define what love is not, I believe it’s time to put these ideas to the test by analyzing what is, in my humble opinion, the single greatest act of love of all time: the Passion and Crucifixion.

The first time I realized this (which I probably did while watching the brutal depiction of the flagellation in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, if I recall correctly) I was taken aback. The Crucifixion of our Lord is, after all, the greatest crime Man has committed. Literal deicide. But what our Lord did with it, what He in His infinite wisdom used it for, is simply mesmerizing and worthy of all our awe.

We can first go look at the context, which is filled with other amazing acts of love. For starters, the Incarnation. Think about it: In a world where Man tends to make an idol of himself and try to become a god, God loved Man so much that He became a man, incarnated in our Mother after her fiat. Then, for the first thirty years or so of His life, He showed us what love in the family should look: here was God Himself, humbly learning the art of woodworking from St. Joseph. After that private period came the three years of His public life, in which He spread the truth for us to learn because He loved us. And then, the Holy Thursday came. As if dying in the Cross for us was not enough, He chose to remain with us under the accidents of bread and wine, the most simple of meals.

And thus, after all of these great acts of love, comes the greatest of them all. The most complete, most selfless, giving of oneself to the beloved: Christ suffering through the Passion and dying in the Cross like if He was some low-life criminal, all to redeem us from our sins and stupidity.

I don’t think love is just a wholesome feeling accompanied filled with laughs and smiles, as I said last time around, because I look at a crucifix–even the most simple ones made out of nothing but wood–and see my Lord and Savior dying for a wretch like me. Hung in the Cross I see, even if my faith falters from time to time, the true meaning of love. The incarnation of love. If, as St. John says, ‘God is love’, Christ is love incarnated. And we can see that in the Cross.

When I realized this, aided my more than one priest far wiser than I’ll ever be, I couldn’t help but feel small, rightfully so, but I also felt a certain call. Hung in the Cross I see not only love incarnated, but something worth imitating. I see love, something worth dying for and, thus, something worth living for.

Closing Remarks

To the expert eye, this article and his older brother will definitely look both unprofessional and rant-like. For that, I am terribly sorry. That said, I can’t help but write of this crisis of love I keep seeing everywhere I go and in everything I see, read, or listen to. Such a beautiful thing that God has given us the capacity to do, yet something so watered down in our modern days, thrown around like a feel-good, politically correct, notion that is so disgusting when compared to the actual thing.

What can we do? First of all, we must learn how to love. Truly love. As I’ve argued in these two articles, I believe we can do that by analyzing Sacred Scripture, particularly the Gospels, for Christ is the greatest example and, thus, the greatest teacher. Secondly, we must love. This should be the hallmark of Catholics, the example we must provide before the world. After all, every single difference our true faith has to an erroneous belief can be jotted down to love. The Trinity? St. Augustine would argue it exists out of love. The Eucharist? As discussed earlier, an act of love. The Passion and the Crucifixion? The Greatest Act of Love of All Time (trademark pending). The Resurrection? The victory over death, the sun rising after the trialing times, giving us something to hope for, and hope is, ultimately, trust in love. The Papacy? A structure that allows for peace, instituted by the Christ, love incarnated. And so on, and so forth.

With all this in mind, I say let love change our lives. Let it and our faith imbue every single one of our acts. Let nothing be automatic. If we enter a Church and genuflect before our Lord in the tabernacle let us do it with completeness and selflessness, and not as something merely automatic. Let love become our habit and, then, our routine. And let us learn how to love from the greatest teacher in the matter, Christ.

Last, but not least, remember the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The last part at the minimum, “[love] endures all things”, should be enough to support the idea that love is more about sacrifice and the complete and selfless giving of oneself to the beloved rather than teddy bears, chocolates, and rom-coms.


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