The word love gets used by everyone, and the colloquial use of it has come to denote nothing more than a great fondness for a thing. But that’s not what love is. Oh, yes, love is often associated with fondness, and it’s not improper to use love to refer to an emotive state. However, love is far greater than that!
Do you know what it means to love? Have you ever given it much thought? Perhaps you’ve merely assumed that you had a pretty good handle on the idea, and that’s alright. But do give it some thought.
Surely, you already know it’s not simply a feeling or emotion. Love is principally an act. To love another, in the classic, Catholic understanding, is to will his good. "To love is to will the good of another”, said Aquinas. This prompts the question though: What is good for a person? It’s a vital question. How can you love another if you do not know what is good for him?
Without going deep into the nitty-gritty of Thomistic philosophy – as awesome as it is – the highest good for man is communion with God. To know him, to reach heaven and to enjoy the beatific vision, is our highest good. To know God is the reason for our existence. Therefore, the truest love for another is to will that he reach the joys of heaven. Actions that tend toward that end are truly loving acts.
Consider what that means for a moment. It means that any and all sinful actions, by virtue of the fact that they harm one’s relationship with God, are unloving. It’s unloving not in the sense of a neutral indifference; rather, it is opposed to love. Sinful actions, regardless of motivation or intention, are actually hateful.
Like love, hate is primarily used today to denote an emotive state, a feeling of great dislike. Again, that’s not an inappropriate use of the word, but as the antonym of love, hate’s principally meaning is derived from love‘s principal meaning. To hate, then, is to will evil for another. So, sinful acts, by definition, since they are willed evils, are truly acts of hatred.
To pursue virtue is to love. To give in to vice is to hate. To help a brother see his error is to love. To support a friend in his error is to hate. If you will an evil for another, though you fail to recognize its evil – and even though you may be motivated by true concern – you have hated him. Love is not possible without reference to the good. When a mother feeds her child, to nourish him, that is love.
To will even a minor good, such as healing from the common cold, is loving. But the highest love is found in willing the highest good. Don’t take that lightly! It is imperative that if we are to fulfill Christ’s command to love one another as he has loved us, we must zealously pursue our own holiness and the holiness of those around us.
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” You may never face the possibility of sacrificing your own life for another, but you are presented each day with the possibility of living a self-sacrificial love that advances the Kingdom of God and prepares your heart for that ultimate act of love.