An old song had this verse, "Donít talk of love. Well, Iíve heard the word before." I have to admit I often identified with that verse. It seemed to me that the word "love" had become distorted. I remember a priest writing to his congregation that he was leaving the ministry because he had "fallen in love." Using similar reasoning, a man in my parish abandoned his family because he no longer loved his wife. "Love" had become an all purpose word to justify almost any behavior.
Nevertheless, even though the word "love" has been terribly misused, there is no getting away from it. It is fundamental to the Bible and Christian tradition. In todayís second reading and Gospel, I counted the word "love" sixteen times.
In his first encyclical (Deus Charitas Est, God is Love), Pope Benedict goes a long way toward recovering the meaning of love. The encyclical contains three somewhat surprising moves.
First, the Holy Father speaks favorable about a kind of love called eros. It is a love which seems to impose itself upon the human person. Although this love can take many forms, its great archetype is the love between a man and a woman. That love involves both body and soul. It opens a person to a promise of fidelity which seems irresistible. All other loves, at first glance, seem pale by comparison.
As powerful as this love seems, it has a tendency to wane - and even to become destructive. In his second move, the Holy Father explains how eros love needs to be purified by a different kind of love, agape. While eros is an ascending love, agape descends upon a person from above. St. John says to us today, "In this is love; not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us." This descending love makes possible true self-giving or self-sacrifice.
After explaining the two loves, the Holy Father makes a third, perhaps even more surprising move. He insists on organized love. We have to do more than just respond to the person (or persons) in front of us. The pope refers to a reading we have heard during the Easter season: that none of the early Christians lacked the physical necessities because they held everything in common. (Acts 2:45) From that starting point, Pope Benedict gives an overview of organized Christian love in todayís world. In recent years you and I have learned a specific word for this type of love: stewardship. It means putting our gifts - time, abilities and financial resources - at the service of people we might never meet personally. While perhaps less exciting, this form of love puts into action Jesus` words: "This I command you. Love one another."
From Archives: (Sixth Easter, Year B)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Day of Prayer for Immigrants & Hosts, DaVinci Questions Remain, Mary Bloom Thank You)
Pictures from Peru (May 2006):
Truchas de Puno