Eros and Agape

(Homily for Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

February is traditionally a time to reflect on human love. Right in the middle of the month we have St. Valentine’s Day – and on the preceding Sunday we celebrate World Marriage Day. It is important for us to think about the meaning of love. In that regard, I would like to make a recommendation. You have probably heard that Pope Benedict issued his first encyclical on precisely that theme. It is called Deus Caritas Est, God is Love. I encourage you to read that encyclical. It is only twenty-five pages long and will greatly repay the time spent in careful reading and meditation.*

As a way of understanding the meaning of love, the Holy Father explains the difference between two Greek words: Eros and agape.** Eros, he says, referred to “that love between a man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings…” agape, on the other hand, was the word which the New Testament writers preferred to describe the new relationship between Christ and his disciples.

Although it sometimes appears that the two loves are irreconcilable, Pope Benedict argues that that is not the case. Christianity did not come to “destroy” Eros. Rather, he says, Eros can be understood as an “ascending love” and agape a “descending love.” The two are brought together in the heart of a Christian. “The biblical faith,” says Pope Benedict, “does not set up a parallel universe.” On the contrary, it “accepts the whole man; it intervenes in his search for love in order to purify it and to reveal new dimensions to it.”

Again, I encourage you to read this wonderful pastoral letter. I have quoted this section because it fits so well with our readings this Sunday. Our faith does not set up a “parallel universe,” some ideal place where everything is sweetness and light. No, we realize the meaning of love in the midst of the struggles and trials of this world. Today we hear Job speaking poignantly about the drudgery of his life, his months of misery and his troubled nights. In the Gospel we see Jesus overwhelmed by diseased and demon gripped people.

Jesus accepts this burden without a word of complaint. St. Paul is a little different. He tells how he made himself a “slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.” Paul worked hard, but he also let people know how hard he worked. In that regard, he is like you and me. Or at least like me. I sometimes have days when I am bombarded by problems on all sides. But, in spite of being busy, I do find time to let others know how busy I am!

In Jesus we see the right balance. After he had spent most of the night helping those who were troubled, he rose before dawn and went off to a deserted place to pray. The source of true love comes down from above and without it, we become like a spinning top. We might look impressive for a time, but we inevitably fall down.

All of this ties in with our mission to educate the young. This Sunday we bring to a culmination our celebration of Catholic Schools Week. To use Pope Benedict's phrase, our parish school is not about creating a “parallel universe.” We wish rather to take everything that is good from human culture and integrate it into our love for God. At the same time, we recognize that on our own power we cannot create a world which is truly just, good and beautiful. We need the love which descends from above. For that reason Jesus sometimes spent entire nights in prayer.

But after he prayed, he returned to the task of teaching, which meant awakening people to the kingdom, God's rule. That is what we strive to do in our parish school, our catechetical programs and our families. May Jesus who taught and who healed enable us to continue his mission.


*Fr. Richard Roach, S.J, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish, Vashon, WA made this comment on the new encyclical:

This past week we had a wondrous example of our Lord teaching through the Church he founded. Pope Benedict XVI, the Bishop of Rome, issued his first encyclical (i.e., addressed to the whole Church) letter entitled, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). If you download this encyclical from the Vatican web site, it prints out in 25 pages with all its notes (text is 23 pages). This encyclical is incredibly brilliant! We haven’t seen teaching this well done in a very long time. Alleluia! Please read this encyclical! In the study group or any other forum this parish would like, I’d be honored to help parishioners uncover the richness of this brilliant writing. A friend at the cathedral in London in an email described this encyclical as a Master Class in our faith. I agree wholeheartedly! (Richard R. Roach, S.J.)

**For correct pronunciation I defer to those more knowlegable in Greek, but I most commonly hear the words pronounced AIR-ross and ah-guh-PAY (ah-GOP-pay also seems to work).

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Fifth Sunday, Year B, 2012: I Do So Willingly
2009: Entrusted With a Stewardship
2006: Eros and Agape
2003: What a Lot of Work!

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Catholic Schools, Bishop Eusebio - three issues, Mark Shea, Cathedral Walk)


2005 was a banner year for Pius XII studies (Joseph Bottum summarizes recent books on Pope Pius XII's defense of Jews during World War II, scroll down)

SMV Bulletin

Pictures from Peru

(Major Robert D. Lindenau Tutoring Program)

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