Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Nature, Origin, and Cause of Love

What is "love" and where does it come from?

Ultimately, love comes from God, who is Love, as do all things come from Him. But more immediately for the individual person, the question of "where" is illuminated by the question of "what."

What is love? In its purest and truest and fullest, love is a gift, a gift of self, and it is something which is given unconditionally, without concern for whether the other "deserves" it, or what we may or may not receive in return, although it is a joy when it is reciprocated.

In recognizing that it is something selflessly given, not merely something experienced, we can also see that the immediate cause of love in us is our decision to give it. It is not something that overcomes us or is imposed upon us, or something that "just happens." That is, in the individual sense, love comes from our free choice of the will. And in choosing to love, in choosing to give of oneself, we ultimately are choosing to accept God, who is, after all, Love itself. Conversely, not loving is not something that "just happens," not loving is also a choice.

However, love in its fullest sense is not all about such agape love of noble self-sacrifice, which many might see as joyless duty, it is also about the brotherly, fraternal, friendship kind of love that is philia, as well as being about the love of purified eros, the thirsting kind of love that naturally seeks an “other,” a joyous, passionate, ascending, intimate kind of love, longing to be with the other.

And, as we have discussed in previous weeks and months, marriage is the "primordial sacrament," there is a spousal meaning in the human body, so we are all called to a spousal-type of love that is both unitive and creative, as exemplified by husband and wife, God and Israel, Jesus the Bridegroom and His Virgin Bride, the Church, a loving communion of persons in one fruitful being, as in the image of the Trinity. The fullness of love is, by its nature, dynamic and fertile, it bears fruit, and it is this is fullness of love, in a complete gift of self, that we are all called to give. This is why, among other reasons, the use of contraception is wrong; by its very nature, contraception involves a partial withholding of self, by the barrier it imposes between man and woman, contraception is inherently inconsistent with the truth that we are made for the fullness of love in a complete gift of self that is unitive and fruitful.

Still, in all of these aspects of love, even in the attractive love of eros, there is an element of free choice. There is only one “love,” notwithstanding its multiple aspects and dimensions. And this is true whether it is love of a sweetheart or love of an enemy.
“Fundamentally, ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly.” – Deus Caritas Est
If love were merely a positive feeling, then how could we love our enemy, whom we do not even like?
“Love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love.” – Deus Caritas Est
The greatest gifts that God gave us in addition to our existence are reason, free will, and the capacity to love. We were created by God out of love, we were made through the Logos by an act of creative reason, and for love. Our purpose, the reason that we are here, is to love and be loved. Does it make sense that, in that area for which we are created, love, God would deprive us of those other gifts of reason and free choice of the will?

Love is not love if it is not freely given. Love is not love if it is not the fruit of a conscious decision. It may be suggested that love is a feeling, an emotion, an attraction, a desire for the other, a sense of fulfillment. And certainly these things often do accompany love, but they are not love in and of itself. Feelings come and go. Sentiments come and go. Attraction comes and goes. And yet love -- if it truly is love -- remains. Indeed, this is seen when Jesus tells us that we must love not only those close to us, but our neighbors, that is, total strangers we don’t even know, and even our enemies, people we don’t even like.

True love is not merely pleasure or sentiment. Love is more than just an emotional feeling, more than attraction and affection, and more than a desire for personal happiness or fulfillment. Love is a conscious, decisive choice of the other as the focus of affection, a commitment of the will to subordinate yourself, and to seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of yourself for the other’s benefit. In short, in all its aspects, love is a free choice.

And such a love is secure because it does not depend upon and is not contingent upon the other person -- it only depends on you.
“The ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given [by God]. Some people object and say that love cannot be commanded, that it is ultimately a feeling which is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will. However, God has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. In God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings.” – Deus Caritas Est
So, how do you love – truly love? You make a conscious decision, an act of the will, that you will love no matter what, freely and unconditionally. If the other has hurt you or disappointed you or even rejected and abandoned you, the end of love is not an automatic thing -- you have a decision to make, a choice: Do I stop loving them? "No, I don't want to stop loving, I will not stop loving." No one can make you stop loving except you. Love is a gift of self, accepting the person who is loved as they really are, without the merits of whether or not they “deserve” to be loved. And if you feel that you do not have that power within you, ask for a little help, which we call grace, from God.

The paradox of love. It is by having such a complete loving disposition toward gift of self that we are able to obtain a level of contentment and happiness that is permanent. It is another one of those curious paradoxes -- by sacrificing yourself, even your personal happiness and security, you gain an even greater happiness and security; by letting go of your self-centered ego, you find yourself; by emptying yourself, you become fulfilled. Agape and eros in one.

Such love is not all drudgery and duty, but leads to joy, real heart-soaring joy and contentment and fulfillment. The more that you are disposed to love, the better you are able to love and find love in male-female and other interpersonal relationships. The more you are disposed to love, the more you will be able to see the good qualities in others. These others become more physically attractive, more intelligent, more humorous, more enjoyable. However, the more you are turned inward, seeking to satisfy yourself, complaining that there are no good men or women out there, the more trouble you will have finding them. A perfect Christian, embracing love perfectly, should be able to be united to anyone and be attracted to them, and desire them, and want to be with them, because they have love, and they see in the other the image of Christ.

Such a loving disposition is also something which approaches the divine. Let us consider the love of God -- God is perfect; He is Truth itself. Therefore, the highest and most perfect and truest love is God’s love. And what kind of “love” is that? Deus caritas est. God is caritas; God’s love is love as caritas, charitable gift.

We must love as God loves. God does not love us because we are so incredibly attractive and pretty or because we are sexy or funny or smart or because we have money and power and fame or because we are so likeable - most of us are none of these things. And yet, He loves us even in the absence of these things; He loves us unconditionally for ourselves, as we are. He loves, He gives - fully and completely, to the extent of giving His life, even though we do not deserve it. He gives us His love because He seeks the good for us, because we need love. Love is life.

Indeed, if we were to honestly and justly consider the matter, we must concede that none of us "deserve" such love. After all, mankind has given God little more than rejection and infidelity throughout history. And yet, He continues to love us, fully, completely, and unconditionally. He refuses to stop loving us, even when we torture Him and murder Him. He continues to give.

But it is through the Cross that one attains the Resurrection. It is by and through the Lord's gift of self, first by becoming man, and then on the Cross, that "all things are made new." Love is by its very nature dynamic and fertile, it is life itself, and it is this fullness of love that has the power to transform dull and social lifelessness to a new life of authentic happiness, true ecstasy, and even bring new life into a love that which was once dead. But we, like He, must first choose to make that gift of self.

We must love as God loves. If we would have others love us, if we would seek to enjoy the joyous fruits of love for ourselves, we must love perfectly and truly as He loves. We must choose not to be selfishly focused on our own wants and desires by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, but must instead freely choose to eat from the Tree of Love.

See also the comment section below in What is this thing called “love”?


Geez, She's Back said...

Mark - your words are full of wisdom and I can find no fault in them, per se. But we are all human. None of us can hope to live up to the perfection of God's love and how God expects/commands us to love.

That doesn't excuse us from the effort, but let's face it, sometimes love IS drudgery, love IS pain - in more ways than one - and love can hurt.

When I read things like this, it feels akin to looking at the supermodel in the magazines. I will NEVER be able to look like that, on my best day.

I will NEVER be able to love fully, ideally, with agape, philia, eros, etc. I will NEVER achieve that. I can accomplish them separately, but I'll never be able to love everyone all the time in every way.

The relevant thing there is, which one of those will be the one at the fore? Since we can't all love perfectly, which do we choose to fulfill? For most, I think it's eros because it feels so damned good.

What needs to be understood is that when that wonderful heart-soaring, joyful contentment you referred to goes away, that is when we have to make the conscious choice to commit to the love that is not always so fun. It's easy to love when one is in the thrall of it.

Mark said...

We are called to be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect, in love.

And if we are speaking of love -- should we not want the best?

Nevertheless, yes, we often fail, we often come up short.

But we shouldn't beat ourselves up over it. We shouldn't get all discouraged because we are imperfect fallen humans. The Lord knows that and He understands that and He loves us still. But He also asks us to keep going, to keep proceeding down the road, to progress in the journey of love.

Sure, many of us have not gone very far down that road, but what is important is that we stay on the road. If we are on the road, no matter how far down we've gone, the journey is much easier -- much, much easier than trying to go through the high weeds and rocky ground with an inward-oriented hard-heart.

Do what you can, and ask God for help (grace) to do the rest.

She said...

I AM striving for perfection. Of course I want the best - to love perfectly and to be loved.

I did, do, and will continue to ask for God's grace as I reach.

But I asked a friend, too...

Bender said...

"The Bridegroom is coming . . ."

(see here tomorrow)

She said...

You know I'll be there. Here.