Remember your first kiss? I remember mine.
As a ninth grader, my then-girlfriend (a tenth grader) had her mom drop me off at my house. Her mom gave us a few minutes alone on my front porch. The girl kissed me and then went home, while I went inside.
I remember immediately running to the bathroom mirror so I could see myself. I wanted to see what love looked like. I mean, I thought I was in love.
Turns out, I was merely infatuated. Maybe even infatuated with the thought of being in love. I had puppy love.
I bet you can relate. I better you can remember your knees going weak and your heart racing when that cute girl in your math class kept looking your way, or the first time that hot jock sat next to you at lunch. You were “hooked on a feeling,” as the song goes.
As we later learned the hard way with a broken heart that was not true love.
Love is not a feeling, it is actually an act of the will. Let me repeat that: love is not a feeling. It is an act of your will.
As I scan Western society, and American culture in particular, I see a crisis in love. Our culture is devoid of true love. The effects are catastrophic. People aren’t bothering to get married, they live promiscuous lifestyles, 50% of marriages end in divorce, and on and on.
A Deficiency in the Modern Definition of Love
The problem with defining love as a feeling should be obvious. Feelings are fluid, and can change as quickly as the wind or the weather. Moreover, in our fallen human nature, we do not have optimal control over our passions (emotions). The greatest virtue of all, love, ought not be subservient to our passions as a result.
Making matters worse, since modern man is so obsessed with feeding his passions, he orders his relationships to accommodate. Many relationships, especially romantic ones, end up being centered on selfishness, on using the other person—not on truly caring about the other person.
We see selfishness played out in a relationship when either partner desires, and even requires that he get his way. If you are always dictating what gets ate for dinner, which television show is watched, or what game gets played, then perhaps you need to do some soul searching. Always getting your way is a recipe for disaster. When hardship hits, in any aspect of life, coping can be hard because your desires have just been defied.
Using Another Person
Reducing a relationship to feelings lends itself to viewing the other person as an object. If people are merely a means to an end for you, you are most certainly using them.
We use food, alcohol, games, and distractions to appease ourselves from time to time. However, when we rely on such immaterial objects to make us happy, then we will not enjoy total satisfaction. In the end, relationships with others, and ultimately with God are what fulfill us all.
Not Even Caring
What is the opposite of love?…
Did you answer hate?
If so, you would be wrong.
Apathy is actually the opposite of love. Not even caring about the well-being of another person turns out to be the cruelest action toward another person.
If relationships are built primarily on feelings, then once those feelings evaporate, apathy can fill the void, and no love would be found at that point.
Let us contrast this with what love truly is.
A Way to Define Love and to Reorder Our Relationships
I thought of defining love how the Catholic Encyclopedia does. I could also cite for you the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1822, for those keeping score at home). But I suppose I will go with Sacred Scripture’s definition:
“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.
Love never ends”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Revised Standard Version).
To add commentary to the beautiful passage, I would sum up love as having three main characteristics: Love is self-less, sacrificial, and puts first the needs of the other person.
Love is Self-less
In order to truly care for another person, we need to get ourselves out of the way. It requires not that we think less of ourselves, but that we think of ourselves less often.
Where selfishness says me, myself, and I, self-lessness says you, and they.
Pope John Paul II wrote, “[Man] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself,” (Gaudium et Spes, 24).
Want to experience lasting happiness? Then set your priorities on J.O.Y.: Jesus, then Others, then Yourself.
Love Requires Sacrifice
Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, RSV).
When we give something up for the benefit of someone else, we are saying that we value that person greater than the object being cast away. Rather than seeing a person as a mere object for our pleasure, we are meant to lay aside objects for that person.
Practically speaking, this means that doing what we do not feel like doing, for the benefit of the other person, is an act of charity. An example might be doing the dishes when we would rather watch a movie, or driving someone to the airport at an inconvenient time.
When we give up our desires, naturally speaking, we think we lose. That is why truly loving another person requires grace from God to be able to do. We want to cling to our own wills in our pride. God wills for us to be broken from that tendency, and in so doing, to truly live.
Love Puts First the Needs of the Other Person
Parenthood especially trains someone well of this truth that true love requires putting the other person’s needs ahead of your own. You may not want to rock the child when he needs rocked or to change his diaper at that time, but you do it. Your will is put aside because someone else is in need. Parenthood is not the only occasion by any stretch.
What I have learned is that love is an act of the will, not merely an emotion. This has especially become apparent to me in my marriage to my wonderful wife of six years. Our souls have entwined and we are molded to each other. She can read me and knows me better than anyone else on this planet… And remarkably she puts up with me!
Likewise, I cannot imagine my life without my wife. She makes me a better person. Her needs must trump my own. She is my reason to get out of myself and to tackle the world. I am the head of the household and must ensure my wife and children are cared for, before I worry about my own needs. This is my duty as a Catholic husband and father.
Yet, our culture would have you believe such a paradigm is impossible… Naturally speaking, they would be correct. That is why we need God’s grace to love as we ought to.
When relationship are built around helping one another primarily, rather than using one another, then those relationships can grow and flourish.
To care for someone means to want them to be happy. We should work toward making the other person experience joy, even if it means not getting what we want.
There really is life outside our own little bubbles. Naval gazing will not change the world.
Of course, it should be pointed out that love of God serves as the primary criterion for a joyful life.
The fruits of charity (love) are joy, peace, and mercy, Catechism 1829 tells us. In a society that devalues marriage, discourages child rearing, and promotes promiscuity, I can safely assert that such fruits are rarely enjoyed.
In future blog posts we will explore how the culture of death, especially contraception use, contradicts love. Stay tuned for that.
What do you think? Are we in a crisis of love?
Is my summation of love accurate, or would you amend it or change it altogether?
Please sound off below!