What is love?

The age that we live in includes many great and excellent developments, but among them is not a development for the understanding of genuine love. We have sent men to the moon, developed planes that take us to places thousands of miles away in matter of hours, and we have even mapped out our entire human genome. At the same time, we have aborted millions of children because of our selfishness, robbed many of their human dignity because of our greed, and dehumanized the many others because of lust. We seem to have become richer when it comes to production and consumption, but deprived when it comes to virtue.

Deprived in virtue, we still think we know one thing or another about love—the greatest virtue of them all. I think most of us would consider Romeo and Juliet to be a great love story, and we will point to the struggle and deaths of the lovers as those instances which demonstrate love at its most genuine moments. Doubtlessly, all of us seem to know what love is and what it entails, but most seem to have overlooked one very important facet of love—so important that without it love cannot take place at all. What I’m referring to, of course, is sacrifice. There is such a thing as sacrifice not for the sake of love, but there is no such thing as love without sacrifice.

Naturally, children love their parents, and, in turn, parents unconditionally love their children. Brothers and sisters have a very profound fraternal love for each other, even though they may not like the other very much. Strangers meet and also willfully love the other as the Lord calls them to be united as one in Him through their own vocational calls.  All this love is internally free and willful and externally uttered by the lover to the beloved. These utterings of love are unequivocally utterings of sacrifice. They demand, if it comes to it, the ultimate sacrifice: one’s own life.

Yet, such a beautiful picture of love has been tainted and smeared by our culture, a culture of vanity, selfishness, consumerism, and many other perversions. Mothers no longer desire to sacrifice their lives to protect their children; instead they destroy an innocent lives so they are less burdened in their pursuit of happiness. Brothers and sisters no longer want what is best for the other, only what is best for themselves, even if it means not speaking to the other for years, even until death. Men and women no longer see the intrinsic beauty in each other, but only lust after the flesh of the other, to the point that both are treated as objects of sexual desire and are discarded after the animalistic lust is satiated.

Sadly, these perversions of love is understood by our own culture as genuine love. We need to return to the cross of Calvary to find genuine love–a love which demands sacrifice. That Lord of Hosts was the innocent lamb who forfeited his life for the sake of our sinfulness. He willingly embraced the cross of death so that we may enter into eternal life. Our sacrifices in this life, no matter how burdensome we think they may be, can never amount to His sacrifice. Yet, if we are to understand what love is and to show what love is, we must learn to sacrifice, even if it means our own lives. Our Lord teaches that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. Such wisdom tells us that love is not about ourselves, it is, instead, about the other. Love is always about the other since it is because of the other that makes love intelligible; otherwise love lacks an object. And since love is always about the other, it demands our own sacrifices.  So when we utter the words “I love you,” we should realize the ultimate sacrifice that such love may demand: our very own lives.

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