“Pure love … knows that only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love – love, and always love.” (140)
–Divine Mercy in My Soul, St. Faustina
In this transformation that I was undergoing, I started to think about what it was that God really wants from us. The answer is always love. The bible tells us over and over to love. And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
This seems easy enough, right? Just love people. But do we really? The answer to that for me was no. I began to read more about it and the English language only has one word for Love, but the Ancient Greeks, they had many different words for love. The first was “Philia” and this is a dispassionate virtuous love, like the love between family, brotherly love. It is a mental kind of love. In Philia there is a give and a take between people. The second is “Eros” this is physical passionate love, romantic love, pure emotional love. I believe this is what our society focuses so much on. This is based on a feeling that almost always goes away. But the final Greek word I will mention about love is, “Agape”. This refers to love in the spiritual sense. It is true unconditional love. This is love that gives and never expects anything in return. It is willing the good of the other for their own sake and expecting nothing in return. That, right there, that is a hard kind of love. That is the kind of love God gives us and the kind of love we desperately need from one another.
You see, I was discovering that love isn’t an emotion (or just singularly an emotion) it was a choice that you make. I have seen and felt Agape. It isn’t as rare as you would think, but neither is it everywhere. Every exhausted mother who made a choice to get up in the middle of the night for her crying baby, that was Agape. Every child who has taken care of an elderly parent and nurtured them in their old age, that is Agape. Every spouse, who when the sickness comes, takes care of her and works and takes care of the children, that is Agape. That is a choice to do what we ought to do.
I thought of my own life. I have experienced the Agape with my children. How was I with my spouse? I seemed to always want something in return from him. I want you to do this for me, do that for me, nag, nag, nag. I decided it was time to build him up, for his own sake. I decided to focus on all the things he does well and to thank him for those things. How was I with anyone really? Did I will the good of my friends for their own sake, or did I get jealous when something went well for them? So much of our vocabulary focuses on what I want. I want. I want. I want. And the wanting never ends. We get the thing we want, and still we are not satisfied. Again, I made a choice. Maybe I should stop wanting, and start loving, truly loving. I would make an effort to perform some small kindness that was within my means for others. It was amazing how, in those times, when I choose to do this, choose to be happy for others, and perform some kindness, how much better my life got. Though I sought nothing in return, what I got in return was abounding kindness from others who responded to me that way. This included my marriage.
I should point out though that sometimes Agape love is hard. Sometimes it requires a boundary, or a word, of concern, where it is needed. Agape applies to you as well. Love yourself as God loves you. That means taking care of you.
Agape is especially hard if you don’t like someone or you disagree with their views. I struggle greatly here. But we are called to this. Without Agape we dehumanize people. We see them as less than ourselves. We choose to put them down, call them names, because they don’t conform to our view of things. If we choose to love people the way we are meant to, we must look through the eyes of love as God does, and treat all people with dignity and respect. We don’t treat people like they are a burden, but a gift. Imagine a world of Agape. It starts with each of us, one at a time.