The last two weeks we’ve been looking at love (part 1 and part 2). Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40). He also said we have to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Last week we looked at seven qualities of love. Today let’s begin by looking at some myths about love.
First myth: Love is a feeling.
Love is not a feeling. Loving someone should feel good, but what you feel is not love. If love was a feeling, Jesus would not have hung on the Cross out of love; I can guarantee you that didn’t feel good.
Instead, love is a choice. Love is an act of your will. We choose to love. That is why Jesus can command us to love our enemies. When we love someone we do something for them. That is why I always ask couples who are preparing for Marriage what they mean when they say, “I love you.” Usually we mean, “I feel good when I am with you” or “you make me feel so good” or “I love the feeling I have when I’m with you.” That’s not “I love you,” that’s “I love me”!
When we say “I love you” it should mean: “I am going to put your needs before mine every time, all the time, no matter what.” That’s love. Love is “doing.”
That’s why, in some ways, the best way to understand love is by looking at the love of a parent.
Parents who love their children do so intentionally (that’s why the theme of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia is “Love is Our Mission”). There is a purpose to their love. When we parent, our job is to work ourselves out of a job. We want our children to grow up and be healthy, holy adults (who don’t need parents). That’s why so many experts will say that our children are not our friends. I can be friendly with my kids, but my kids are not my friends – especially when they are young. As adults, by all mean, be friends with your kids (you worked yourself out of a job, remember?) but when they are young, you are not their friend; you are the parent. Your job is not to make your children happy; your job is to make them healthy and holy.
Sometimes (more often than not) that means using what we call “tough love”. It means letting them learn real consequences. It means letting them experience hurt and disappointment. It means challenging them and disciplining them. It means giving them clear structures and boundaries (I’ll write about this some time). Love is attentive; love takes risks; love risks independence; risks commitment and risks confrontation. Love risks pain.
As we celebrate the World Meeting of Families, let’s reflect on what love means in terms of the family. Families love each other because they make sacrifices for each other. Families always look out for each others’ needs. Families care for each others’ health and well-being. Families pray together, eat meals together, celebrate together, and create rituals and memories together (I’m a big believer in taking the whole family, especially when the kids are little grocery shopping; tantrums and all. That’s how you teach your kids to be family). And remember the three phrases that Pope Francis always says families should never forget: please, thank you and I’m sorry.
Last night Pope Francis spoke to families gathered at a Prayer Vigil in Philadelphia. His prepared speech (before he put it aside in order to speak from the heart) said:
Let us help one another to make it possible to “stake everything on love”. Let us help one another at times of difficulty and lighten each other’s burdens. Let us support one another. Let us be families which are a support for other families.
Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is “forged” by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences. Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows. Love can flourish in men and women who try not to make conflict the last word, but rather a new opportunity. An opportunity to seek help, an opportunity to question how we need to improve, an opportunity to discover the God who is with us and never abandons us. This is a great legacy that we can give to our children, a very good lesson: we make mistakes, yes; we have problems, yes. But we know that that is not really what counts. We know that mistakes, problems and conflicts are an opportunity to draw closer to others, to draw closer to God.
And don’t forget that the foundation for the family is Marriage. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25). Wives, love your husbands the same way. Doing so will be the best gift you will give your children. In fact, you can’t adequately love your children if you don’t first love your spouse as Christ loves the Church.
Parents, nothing you do in life will be as important as how you parent your children. At the end of your life it won’t matter that you had a big house, or how many vacations to Disney you went to, or how much time you spent at work so you could afford the house and the vacation; what will matter is how you were a parent to your kids. What will matter is how you were a husband or wife to your spouse.
Indeed, the family is a school of love.
Write to me. (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me what has worked best in your family so we can share it with everyone, and come back next time and before we look at other myths about love, let’s look at three things we must never forget about love.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: