Falling in Love – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
What do we mean when we say that we are in love? When we are young and in love, most of us do not make fine distinctions when we use the word love. We know what it is and how it feels. We know the various ways it affects us: in our hearts, our bodies, our minds, and so on. We may not understand that and that confusion may leave us tongue-tied.
Later on, after we have loved and experienced heartbreak and after the experience of life’s ups and downs, we recognize that there are various sorts of love. The love I feel for my closest friends is quite different from the love I feel for fellow humans, especially those who are in need of compassion. The romantic love I feel is different from the experience of the love of God.
Scripture commentators write of four types of love in scripture. A good little book is The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. He explains it well.
The Greek word storge is translated as affection. It’s the bond of empathy. Philia is the bond of friendship. Eros is the erotic bond between people (when we say that we are in love). Paul’s writing in Corinthians uses the Greek word agape, to speak of unconditional divine love (a more excellent way). Lewis speaks of the fourth type of love being the sum and goal of all.
The reading from First Corinthians at today’s Mass includes the beautiful words about love that are often used at the celebration of marriage. 1 Cor 12:31 – 13:13 is Paul at his most eloquent. He is basically saying that if I don’t have love, I am nothing, and that love never ends. But he says it so beautifully and poetically.
“If I speak in the tongues of human beings and of Angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal … Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. … Love never ends.”
He is up there with Shakespeare and his love sonnets, the poetry of Pablo Neruda and others, and the heartfelt and inadequate letters we write to those we are in love with.
Despite the various distinctions, we know that there are interconnections between the various types of love. I like the beautiful scene in Les Misérables when Jean Valjean says, “To love another person is to see the face of God”
In other words, I can come to discover God’s unconditional love through the love of another person. Likewise, I can grow in empathy for people after I have experienced the love of close family and friends. Lewis says that each of the four loves merge into another and one can even become another, without losing sight of the real differentiation between the four.
One of my favourite statements about love is attributed to Servant of God Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907–1991), a beloved former Superior General of the Jesuits. I never tire of hearing it or reciting it. It calls me back to what is most valuable in my life.
Fall in Love
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.