Sunday, February 3, 2013

What is Love?

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C  

By a show of hands, as you heard today’s second reading, how many of you thought of, or were reminded of, a wedding?  That reading is easily, the most popular reading at weddings.
I’ve only been a priest for a couple years.  If I’ve done 50 weddings, that reading has been read at over 45 of them.

Appropriately so, right?  Because young couples on their wedding day are so intensely in love.  They love their spouse.  They love the fact that they’re beginning their life together as husband and wife.  They love that they’re in love!  There’s no greater feeling than love.

And newlywed couples want to get it right.  They want to keep that love going and keep it on fire.  So, in St. Paul’s words they hear a prescription of love.

They hear what love is: “love is patient, love is kind... it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”  And newlywed couples say, “Yeah, we wanna do that!”

And they hear what love is not: “It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude”  And the couples say, “Yeah, and we wanna avoid all that; all that bad stuff.”

So what is love?  It’s one of the most overused words in the English language.
We use it for everything.  “I love God... I love my mother... I love my baby’s laugh... I love coming home... I love my computer...  I love my car... I love the Super Bowl... I love bacon.”

How can “love” be an accurate word in all those instances?  I mean can we really use the same word to describe how we feel about both God and a material thing like bacon?  As tempted as I am to say “yes” right now, I won’t blaspheme.

The dictionary defines “love” in part as: “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties... warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion."  That definition stinks.  Those are just warm fuzzies.  Jesus says, “love your enemies” (Mt 5:44)  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean “have warm fuzzies for your enemies."  I’m sorry, but I don’t have, and I’m not going to have “strong affection” for my enemies.  I’m not going to have “strong affection” for terrorists.

Love isn’t affection.  Affection is one of the many forms love takes.  So is suffering.  So what is love?

St. Thomas Aquinas
I think there are two really, really good definitions of love.  The first is by St. Thomas Aquinas, who says, love is “to will the good of the other.”

That makes sense.  I love my family.  I want the good for them.  I love you.  I want the good for you.  And according to this definition, I can love my enemies.  I can want their good.  Sometimes, what is good for my enemies (such as terrorists) is that they go to jail so they can’t harm anyone.  

What is also good about Thomas’ definition is that it focuses on the other and not on the self.
And St. Paul defines love similarly.  “Love is patient, love is kind.”  Those are attitudes one has when one is concerned for the other.

The ego has no place in a heart full of love.  St. Paul says this too, right?  Look at all the things Paul says love is not: they all have to do with focusing on one's self.  Love is not jealous - not caring if someone is outshining me.  Love is not pompous or inflated - there’s no ego directing attention to one's self.  Love does not seek it’s own interests - it seeks the interests of the other.  Love does not brood over injury - the ego is very attentive to how one has been hurt

St. John
The other really, really good definition of love is a perfect definition of love.  It’s by St. John the Evangelist who says in his First Letter: “God is love.”  Make’s perfect sense when thinking about St. Thomas’ definition right?  For who wishes the good of the other, the good of us, more than God?

“Love is patient, love is kind” - who is more patient, who is more kind than God?  He is so incredibly patient and kind with us despite how we repeatedly sin.

Love “is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude.”  God is none of these things.  God has no ego.  He is infinitely concerned with us.

Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  Well, that’s what God does for us.  Jesus bears and endures us.  He puts up with us in our sin.  He bears the cross and endures his passion and death

“Love never fails.”  God never fails.  God always wins.  No one is ever going to defeat God.  He even defeats death.

Sometime very soon, break open your Bible and read this passage again: 1 Cor 13.  While you read it, look upon the Crucifix and look upon the definition of love.  And as you do so, look upon your God who wills the good of the other, who wills your good.

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