Love is Patient. . .

| | Comments (1)

I have not read more than the introduction to the new encyclical, but the title alone was enough to make me think and to consider all of the misconceptions and difficulties that center around the idea of love.

When we begin to talk about love there tend to be two very strong reactions. Amongst the intellectuals and those who are emotionally distant, we tend to get the "Love is an act of will," school of thought. Among those who find things too rigorously logical and emotionally sterile, we get the notion that love is an emotion. On the part of the first opinion, I find the thought of God conforming to that definition of love frightening and off-putting. Gritting one's teeth and enduring despite the desire to be elsewhere is certainly an act of will, and it can encompass one motion of love, but it certainly doesn't define the fullness of love--one grits ones teeth and endures because there is a link or a bond there worthy of preservation. On the other hand, the "love is emotion" school, leaves us abandoned to the vagaries of whim. When the feeling of love comes over us, we'll pay attention, otherwise, you're left on your own--there's a bond, but where the will is not united the bond is merely how I feel at the moment. Neither extreme gives us a very appealing notion of what it might mean when we say that God is love.

Neither of these perceptions is entirely correct on its own. Rather it is the combination of the two that gives us some sense of the dimensionality of love. It is interesting that the word used for love with respect to God is not "amor" but "caritas." In fact, this caritas, for a very long time, was translated as "charity." And charity is perhaps closer to the spirit of what is intended than is "amor," linked as it is to eros. Caritas and charity both carry with them the very word "caring." Caring is love in action--it is both an act of will and a movement of will toward the other. Caring implies a bond--in some cases a bond of emotion, but certainly a bond of duty, depending upon the nature of the caring. A nurse might not be emotionally bonded to her patients, but one of the reasons many people become nurses is that there is a deep seated desire to help others. A priest may not particularly like all of his parishioners, but out of duty he cares for each one to the best of his ability.

We are human. Duty fails, bonds are strained, emotions come and go, the strength of desire and will fluctuate. God is God. He is, in this sense the unmoved mover--not that He is emotionally distant, but rather, none of these things that strengthens or weakens the bonds that join humans change His universal caring one iota. The horrors of a Hitler, a Pol Pot, or a Saddam Hussein do not alter God's intense salvific love one bit. His desire, His bond, and His will to save and care for are just as strong for these people as it is for Mother Teresa. I know, there is something frightening about the notion. Is it fair that He should love these who have spread so much sorrow as much as He loves His saints? Fairness is an odd human concept that attempts to right the balance of things. God is a God of justice, mercy, and love. And He is the God of all of these at once without any bars or separation. Remember, God is not the God of parts, but the God of the whole, undivided unity and simplicity. His Love, Justice, Mercy, caring--all of these things are one thing in God, indivisible, uniate. God cannot help but care for all of His children with equal fervor. There are some who cannot return the love and there are some who are exalted to great heights by it. How high we rise in God's kingdom is not so much predicated on how much God loves us (He did so even unto death) as by how much we are willing to respond to that love--by how much precedence that love takes in our own lives. Each is made differently, but God loves all equally. He will welcome any prodigal with the joy that He welcomes any saint. It's just that prodigals, thought they may realize their sin, often repent only insofar as is necessary to get back into good graces. (Being one myself, I speak with authority.)

I'll stop for the moment and gather together the rest of this thought which I may post later; however, for the moment, I think it is sufficient to leave with the thought that love is not a things of extremes in human experience, rather it is the perfect balance of bond and caring with action of will. One must have both the tie and the willingness to accept and act upon the tie for love to exist and grow.

Bookmark and Share


Wow, if you had all this in response to just the introduction, what can we expect once you've perused the whole thing? :-)

My understanding of love is that will comes first, followed (hopefully) by our passions. There may be times when passion provides an impetus, but it never seems to last. People do fall in love, but a marriage still needs work and commitment. There will always be desert experiences and dark nights of the soul.

I see my passions somewhat like a horse. I have to get up every day and journey toward God. Sometimes I get to ride the horse, sometimes not, but I still have to make what progress I can. Riding the horse is certainly more relaxing and more exciting than walking, but it's not without its dangers. Sometimes the horse wants to veer from the path, and go off in a different direction. At those times I either have to rein it in, or abandon it.

But I also think that by aligning our will with God's, we eventually bring our passions into line. I think C.S. Lewis once commented on this, saying that by loving someone we don't like, we will eventually find that we like them more.

I agree with you that love involves caring, although I am not so sure about the emotion. In mentioning that God has no parts, you remind me of the phrase that He has "no body, parts, or passions". So I think we need to be careful not to insist that our love always be accompanied by certain feelings (just as we need to avoid falling into the trap of believing that we have to love ourselves before we can love someone else).

Lest you think that I have resigned myself to the ranks of the teeth-gritters, though, might I suggest that joy is the way out of your dilemma? We may not have complete control of our passions, but by choosing joy we avoid both the extremes of cold and uncaring love, and love that is determined entirely by whim and feeling.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 26, 2006 8:59 AM.

Deus Caritas Est was the previous entry in this blog.

Love Walks on Two Legs is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll