Sunday, 24 April 2016
Love Wills the Good, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C
Today, I'd like to offer some very simple but practical thoughts about what it means to, “Love one another, just as I have loved you”(Jn 13:35) –the “new commandment” we just heard.
Let me first note two very common mistakes that we can make about “loving” someone.
The first, is to think it all about emotion. To think that I am only loving someone if I FEEL loving towards them. It is important to note a distinction made in moral theology between “affective” love in our emotions and “effective” love in our deeds. What the Lord wants from us is not primarily about feelings but about choosing, in our will, good deeds for others.
The second common mistake, one that is common in many of us who are trying to be “better”, is that we reduce loving people to a list of tasks, a list of “to do” items for others. Feeding the children, washing their clothes, smiling at someone etc. Love, however, is more than a list of tasks.
For some time now I've been trying to focus myself better in this regard, and to do so by drawing on the definition of love that is given by the ancient philosopher Aristotle, elaborated by St Thomas Aquinas, and taught in the Catechism:
“To love is to will the good of another.”(St Thomas, ST I-II q26 a4, cited in CCC 1766).
What does this mean?
It means that my will looks at another person, sees some “good” that they do not have but would be better off with, and “wills” that good to them by some effective deed on my part.
For example, I see someone lonely and I will the good of “companionship” to them by choosing to listen to them.
If I have a nice feeling, and emotion, then that helps, and it might indicate that both my behaviour and my emotions are successfully integrated together. But, love itself is about the WILL and what I choose for that person, not a feeling.
This notion of love involves something else, it involves LOOKING at the other person, and seeing what THEY need, seeing what “good” that they lack.
Love is therefore not just a list of tasks on MY agenda, but a response to what I see in needed in someone else.
Obviously, despite the fact I said love us not all about tasks, it does nonetheless involve a great many tasks: babies need to be fed, families need a wage-earner to get them money to live on, etc
But the difference between “loving someone” and “fulfilling a task” is this very point:
That I am oriented towards the other PERSON, not towards the task as such.
Now, you might think I am stating the obvious, and in many ways I am!
But, I am also trying to state what can help purify and deepen our love.
We can purify our love by focussing our intention better, by seeking to habitually orient ourselves to people as people, to look at them and ask ourselves:
“What ‘good’ do I need to be willing to this person now?”
And focussing ourselves this way will infuse our actions with a new quality.
Let me close by noting another obvious point: love involves sacrifice.
To think of others, and what is good for them, involves not thinking of ourselves.
And no one shows us this more clearly than the Lord Jesus. He sought the “good” of our eternal life (c.f. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life’(Jn 3:16).)
For this end He was willing to leave heaven, live in poverty on earth, suffer, and die for us. In all of this He sought our good, not His own. In all of this He looked at our needs, not His own. In all to He looked to see the “good” we needed, and He willed it to us.
Let us therefore, “Love one another, just as I have loved you”(Jn 13:35).