EVERY NOW AND again, I find myself having a difference of opinion with some of my fellow-Catholics over what constitutes “love”.
Without wishing to judge their ability to understand the basics of their faith, it often seems that the modern Catholic — perhaps I should say the “modernist” Catholic — tends to equate loving with liking and some persistently tell me I am wrong when I claim it is possible to have one without the other.
A lot of people confuse the two anyway, mainly because — in the English-speaking world at any rate — we have a nasty tendency to use the words interchangeably. I say “nasty” because misusing words or using them in a slapdash “well, you know what I meant” way probably leads to more misunderstandings between people than anything else.So when I say that I “love” chocolate or that I “love” the symphonies of Vaughan Williams (to hark back to my last post) I really am saying that I like them very much.
To take the argument a step further, if we consider love purely on the emotional level it is something we feel or do not feel and therefore to an extent it is something over which we have little control. But if that were the case, how can we explain Jesus’ reply to the scribe who asked Him what was the most important commandment?
The gospel for today (Friday of week 3 of Lent, Mark 12, 28-34) recounts the incident and the telling reply:
… you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
So we are commanded to love God as we are also commanded to love our neighbour. Love, our Blessed Lord tells us, is not something which is left to our feelings; it is something which we are obliged to do. So “liking” doesn’t come into it. Anyway, I could hardly be expected to like my next door neighbour who lets his eight-foot leylandii hedge continue to block out the light to my garden or plays heavy metal music till 3 o’clock in the morning or lets his out-of-control rottweiler do its business on my carefully tended lawn.
But, Jesus tells, me I have to love him. What Jesus does not say is that I have to like him, so love is something apart from that. I can behave charitably towards him; I can treat him honestly and fairly in my dealings with him; I can sympathise with him in times of trouble and be prepared to be happy with him and for him in the good times.
I can encourage him (to play his music less loudly and keep his dog under control — nobody says loving him means always putting up with his failings, just not making an issue of them!); I can refrain from judging him; I can pray for him.
So “love” in the context that Jesus is talking about is not concerned with feelings towards people but with actions towards them. And when better time than Lent to look closely at ourselves and ask if we are demonstrating this sort of love for our neighbours, friends, work colleagues, and anyone else we associate on a regular basis?