by Theresa Notare
February 24, 2006
The world says a lot about love. Most of it silly – "Love to go fishing?" "You'll love our prices!" "I love NY." Many of our every day notions of love have more to do with "like" or "hype" than real love. That's why the Holy Father wanted to talk about love in his first encyclical, Deus caritas est (DCE). He wants us to think about what it means that God is love, that He loves us, and that we should love Him back and love one another. Sounds simple, but in today's world, it's not so easy to do.
There are so many messages about love that its face can be greatly distorted. This is especially true in regard to marriage. Pick up any women's magazine for a few lessons. Articles from keeping romance alive and ensuring sexual satisfaction to maintaining self-identify and splitting house-hold chores are all covered as ways to strengthen marital love. The common denominator is usually that the individual (be it the man or the woman) has to find a way to make the marriage "happy" for him or her with the sub-text insisting on "great sex" throughout. Is something wrong with this picture? "Yes" and "no."
It is normal and good to want to be happy. In fact, the Holy Father tells us that the nature of purely human love is such that it "searches for" personal happiness. The ancient Greeks, he says, called this kind of love eros. It is good, but needs direction. On its own, eros is unstable. Without guidance, without interfacing with divine truth, human love can, as an old song says, have a person "looking for love in all the wrong places." Rather than ultimate happiness, it can lead to selfishness and isolation. Marriage provides a lesson: if spouses only make themselves happy as individuals, trouble is sure to brew.
"Love," says Benedict XVI, "promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence." (DCE, #5) That's why, by its nature, love involves the Divine. God, who is love, is eternal. What God has revealed in Jesus is that Divine love gives to the other – to the point of losing the self. The early Christians called this love agape. It is love that "becomes concern and care for the other." (DCE, #6) It is "not self-seeking . . . it seeks the good of the beloved." (DCE, #6) It is prepared for and willing, says the Holy Father, for renunciation and even sacrifice. (DCE, #6)
The face of love can be clearly seen when eros and agape join. Our human search for happiness will be fulfilled when we give ourselves to others. In marriage it will have a healthy glow as it shows itself in the spouses' every day "give and take." In families its quiet beauty is revealed in a mother's nurturing of her baby, in a son's care for his ailing parent, and in brothers and sisters rushing to aid one another. In friendship it provides reassuring support in hard times. In a neighborhood, it makes sure no one goes hungry or homeless. In a world, it ensures peace.
If we fail to see love's face, or even at times forget, we have only to lift our eyes from ourselves to Christ – he shows us the face of love.
Theresa Notare, MA is the Assistant Director of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Pro-Life Secretariat, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.