A few years ago I had a seminarian friend ask me what I thought the opposite of love was, and, as I’m sure many others would answer, I said hate. However, he said ‘actually the opposite of love is lust.’ He continued on and said, ‘when you are lusting after someone you are asking yourself what can this person do for me. How can this person fulfill me in this moment? However, when you are loving someone you are asking yourself what can I do for this person. How can I sacrifice myself in service to this person in this moment?’
This is such a perfectly beautiful way of explaining this call from God that each and everyone has. As it says over and over in the bible, we are universally called to love. However, this love that we are called to isn’t the type of love that culture is teaching us. We are surrounded by this culture that tells us that love is this desire to be with a person- that love is an attraction to a person. We’re getting fed this idea that love equals romance or love equals sex or love equals affection. Then we’re left with this totally backwards understanding of what love is because those feelings aren’t rooted in love- they’re rooted in lust.
It becomes a great challenge to those of us who are Catholic Christians to differentiate what our culture is telling us that love is and what love God is calling us to. I would even argue that this is the greatest challenge Christians face on a daily basis. John even says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “At present we see indirectly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially, but then I shall know fully as I am fully known.” What John is talking about here is love. The knowledge we only partially have is love. At present I LOVE partially, but then I shall LOVE fully as I am fully LOVED. That’s really what this verse means. John is recognizing the fact that the only person on this earth that has ever- and will ever- be able to love perfectly is Jesus Christ himself. He’s recognizing that because of original sin we will never be able to love, or even understand love, to the purity that Jesus loves until we are united with Him in Heaven, and, because of that, love is one of the great mysteries of our faith. However, that should not discourage us because love being a mystery allows for us to love our neighbor more and more each day. We can’t perfect love so we are always able to grow in love. So every day we are able to love our friends, our sisters, our brothers, our parents, our significant others more than we did the day before. Husbands are always able to love their wives more, wives are always able to love their husbands more. How beautiful is that? We can never stop growing in love. We can never stop giving love.
John gives us a great testimony to how we can aim to perfect love in the verses before this passage. He says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous. It is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). “Love is patient, love is kind”. Love is looking the person who has just wronged you in the eye and asking yourself how can I serve this person today. How can I sacrifice my time, my skills, my ability to this person, who has just hurt me? How can I serve the person who annoys me? How can I serve my friend? My enemy? My sister? My brother? This stranger? How can I give myself- not my heated emotions, not my impatience, not my anger- how can I give myself to those around me?
A priest once told me that when you do an act of love it should be as if you took a present, put it on someones porch, and walked away. They don’t know it was you who gave it to them. For a while they don’t even know its there. However, that doesn’t matter because love is offering up your prayers, your discomfort, your struggles, for someone else. Love is making sacrifices not with the purpose of fulfilling yourself- not so that you can feel good about yourself- not so that they can love you back, but because you want to serve them as your brother or sister in Christ.
The verse continues and says love, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). The power of love is real, and we need to look no further than Jesus Christ hanging on the cross to find an example. Jesus- who humbled himself to a baby, humbled himself to giving us His body in the Eucharist, and then further humbled himself to death on a cross. Jesus- who suffered the most tragic and agonizing passion ever imaginable. Jesus- who felt every pain and suffering we will ever feel over the course of our lives while hanging on that cross. Jesus endured it all. Jesus was able to endure it all. Not because He is God, but because He loves YOU. Because 2000 years ago He was in pain and He saw your face. He thought how can I serve you today. So, in the face of pain and suffering, Jesus loved.
There is no greater, purer, radical love then the love that Christ hold for us. St. Theresa of Calcutta once said, “When you know how much Christ is in love with you, then you can only live your life radiating that love.”
We are called to live radically and love radiantly, and the way we can love radiantly is to love others the way they are loved by Christ. When you look at your neighbor see Christ in them, see the gifts God has given them, see the love the Lord has given them, and love them the same. For that neighbor is a child of God, and how could God- who is the most perfect father- not love them. So then, how could we, who say we love God, who strive to love God, who desire to love God, not then also love God’s children?
Love like Christ. Bear your crosses for those around you. Offer up your burdens to help serve you neighbor. But how? How can we do that when sometimes our burdens weigh us down so much that we are falling from the weight of our crosses? We do this, we are able to endure all, by first falling in love with Jesus. If you know nothing else, know that Jesus is already completely and totally in love with you. Know that Jesus wants to carry your burdens. That Jesus is asking us to lay our crosses down at His feet. When we fall in love with Jesus, we are accepting His hand. We are accepting His help in carrying our burdens. We should be on fire with love for the Lord, and that fire in our hearts should act like a furnace to purify the love we give others. For Christ’s love is perfect, so through the Lord the love we give others is made more perfect.
Love: with Christ, though Christ, like Christ. Our first question should be how can I serve Christ. For, through serving Christ, we are called to serve our neighbors and thus love our neighbors. Because no, love is not an affection. Love is not a desire. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is an action. So each and every day let us strive to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. [and] ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us