(Copied from Catholic365.com, www.catholic365.com/article/7783/what-is-love.html)
Love is such a basic word, used frequently and also very misunderstood, over-utilized and a term very much perverted in our culture and society.
We confuse the idea of love with so many things that are very far from the virtue of love that we are called to live as Christians. For many of us, love is an emotion, it is a feeling derived from attachment and strong positive sentimental feelings and fondness toward another. It can also many times be confused with lust, an actual vice that is the opposite of love and leads us toward destructive and sinful acts. We love many things in this life. I love ice cream, my home, my car, my job, my family, and my God. Do I and can I love all these things in the same way though? There is only one term for love in our language, and because of that it is often misused, overused and it’s true nature is minimized. This is detrimental, because love is everything to us as Christians. Our God is defined in Scripture as Love. I would hardly imagine though that the love God has for us, and the love we are called to by Christ is the same as the love I have for ice cream.
Scripture comes to us from different languages. The Scriptures were initially written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The Greek language has four different terms for love, broken down into different categories. These categories of the different types of love described in Scripture unfortunately get lost in the translation of these texts into our modern day languages. The four different types of love defined in the Greek language, they are:
Storge- familial love of persons, animals, and things
Phillia – love shared between friends
Eros – passionate love, etiher sexual or spiritual
Agapic – generous self-sacrificial love given without concern for reward
My love of ice cream would be considered storge. The love that I have for my friends is philia, and the love that I have for my family and friends is both eros and agapic. We are called to love God and our neighbor with passion and sacrificial devotion without concern for ourselves and reward. The thing is though, we never quite get to that point. We get so wrapped up in the sentimental, emotional and conjugal aspects of love that hinders for many of us the ability to pass over into that final and most intimate of all love, agapic.
It isn’t our fault. Sin and our fallen nature prohibit us from reaching easily this type of virtuous action that we are called to and that Heaven is filled and saturated with. This is probably why we need that purification stage before entering into such a powerful and overwhelming type of existence. It is at odds with the vice that so easily and generously invades our spirits and actions on a day to day basis.
Saint Thomas Aquinas defined love as willing the good for another. The Church echoes that definition. This definition clearly illustrates that love is not a feeling, or emotion, but an action. It is a willful action that is born from living virtuously. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and love our enemies. So, we are called to will the good and the best for all. The ultimate best and good for all is Heaven, so we are called to love everyone, and work to get everyone we can to Heaven, for happiness forever with the Holy Trinity. That demands a whole lot more from us than just having sentimental affection for someone doesn’t it? Love requires real effort.
Love or Charity is the highest human virtue, and the Catechism defines the virtues as:
CCC 1804 Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.
Love is an attitude and disposition that controls our emotions and should then turn them into virtuous action and the practice of good. We are required by our Faith to love God above all things, and our neighbor as ourselves. That brings us to another dilemma, to what degree do we love our selves as creatures made by a heavenly Father, and created in the image of God himself. Well, we cannot love ourselves, if we do not know God. To love our neighbor we must understand our place in God’s plan, be willing to obey and follow his will, and understand the love that he has for us and reflect that upon ourselves and others. It is a puzzle that fits quite nicely together, until Satan comes around and starts distorting the clear picture with his lies and depravity. When that happens the virtue of Love becomes misunderstood and distorted, and we end up where we are now, in confusion about what Love even means or requires and why we need it so desperately.
I, for one, am very happy and relieved that love does not require us liking someone, or even being their friend. It really transcends that type of feeling, emotion or sentiment. Love is difficult, liking someone is arbitrary. We are commanded to love, but not to like, and that can make loving others most difficult. It is very difficult to will and want to good for our enemies and those that we can’t stand.
God is love, the cross is proof. That is where the eros and the agapic unite at the intersection of the cross. Christ loved us with the kind of love we are called to: a self-sacrificial love not concerned with any reward. The thing is, love is the reward itself, it is so big, so good and so pure that we must be clean and pure ourselves to enter into the Heaven that is love alone.
Yep, it is a lot deeper and more complicated than any of us want to admit or realize, but more real, pure and wonderful than we can ever imagine. Most things worth having and realizing are difficult and take great effort, why would the highest virtue we are called to be and live out any different?