Two weeks ago
we looked at what love is not, based on the wonderful classic by M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled
. His book is not a Catholic book; it’s a psychology book (found in the “self-help” section of your bookstore), but Scott Peck was a practicing Christian and the book is very much a spiritual book. In fact, the subtitle of the book is,” A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth”.
Having looked at what love is not, we are now in a good place to look at what love is–understanding full well that defining love is about as impossible as defining God. (In fact, that’s probably a pretty good definition: Love is God. (See 1 John 4:16)
St. Paul gave us probably the most beautiful and fairly complete exploration of love in his first letter to the Corinithians:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)
I say it’s an “exploration” because it’s not quite a definition, rather it describes qualities that people who love have: patience, kindness; bearing, hoping and enduring all things etc. Each of these would have to be deacon-structed by themselves to make sure that they cannot be taken out of context (as in “enduring all things” could imply that if you love someone you should let them trample all over you; not so). But if you depart from the place where love is mutual (if Married love) and that love is not any of those things that we spoke about last time, and love is free, fruitful and faithful (and total if Married love), then what St. Paul suggests is a perfectly good guide for those of us who want to follow Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbour.
I began by saying that Peck’s book is a spiritual book. His subtitle says that it is a book about spiritual growth. Isn’t that what everything in life should be about? We are here on earth with one aim: to get to God. That means that our one aim is to grow spiritually. Love is part of that spiritual journey. This is why Scott Peck defines love this way:
“Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.”
And so, love is all about growing spiritually, whether it’s our own growth or someone else’s growth it doesn’t matter. In fact, if you are helping someone else grow spiritually, that, by definition is an act of personal spiritual growth. You can’t have one without the other.
So anything that is true for spiritual growth, is true for love. Here are some quotes from the book to help understand the definition above:
“Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. ...Conversely, it is not only possible but necessary for a loving person to avoid acting on feelings of love.”
Love is the will...
This is true. This is why last time we said that love is not a feeling; love is an act of your will. We have to choose to love. We decide to love. I can wake up every morning and make a conscious decision to love someone or to be loving that day. May not be easy, but it’s possible.
“When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion - through the fact that for that someone (or for yourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.”
to extend oneself...
Which is why I just said that it may not be easy. In fact, I’d say that most of the time, it should not be easy. Love is work. Remember that it is growth. When we grow, we stretch – that requires effort and is sometimes painful.
“Love always requires courage and involves risk.”
to extend oneself...
Love always requires risk. This is why ?1 John 4:18 says that "perfect love drives out fear". In fact, many spiritual guides (and I agree) will say that the opposite of love is fear. One of the main messages in the Bible is to not be afraid. Jesus came so that we don’t have to be afraid. Fear paralyses us. On the other hand, love liberates us. And so love always will demand risk: Risk of loss, risk of independence, risk of commitment and risk of confrontation. Don’t be afraid.
“Move out or grow in any dimension and pain as well as joy will be your reward. A full life will be full of pain.”
to extend oneself...
This is very difficult to grasp, because we all long for happiness and I would even say that God wants for all of us to be happy; to be full of joy. But what we don’t understand is that joy comes with suffering. But when we suffer out of love or offer our suffering out of love, that suffering becomes redemptive. That is the miracle of the Cross. We may not be able to avoid suffering—I am not saying that we should go out of our way to find suffering—but we should not fear suffering. We should not fear risk.
“As I grow through love, so grows my joy, ever more present, ever more constant.”
So true. If we keep our eyes on Christ and on Heaven, and we work towards holiness through love (think of St. Therese’s Little Way), not only will we grow closer to God (grow spiritually), but our joy will grow. When we love and live the way of love our joy is abundant.
The goal of love is the nurturing of one's own or another's spirit.
This is why Pope's Francis' image of the Church as Mother connects with so many people. Why is the Church a Mother? Because she nurtures. When we are nurtured, we grow. If we are not nurtured, we die.
Love should not be our main goal in life. It is true that everyone has a right to be loved and to know that they are loved and we should always act with love—if we don’t, we are but a noisy cymbal, says St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:1). But, our goal in life is to be in Heaven with God for eternity; to be united in love with Him Who is Love. Clearly, understanding love, seeking love and following Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbour will help bring that Heavenly reality down here to earth. As John tell us in his first letter:
"So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." 1 John 4:16
Write to me
and share your stories and thoughts. Next week we'll look at some of your questions.
This is part 6 of a series deacon-structing love. Read the whole series:
Part 1: Problems
Part 2: Types
Part 3: The Family
Part 4: The Joy of the Gospel Part 5: Myths
Part 6: Joy
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: firstname.lastname@example.org @deaconpedrogm