What is love?


Do you believe in love? That is not an easy question today. I know many young adults who believe love is a chemical reaction in the brain, a feeling, a temporary experience, ordered to coupling and procreation. It passes as quickly as it comes. For them, this is a reason not to marry, because the love won’t last. For them, love is a mirage not marriage. It is an irony that, in a society where any love or expression of love is recognized, we don’t have a very good grasp on what it actually is, or even if it really exists.

In the First Letter of Saint John we read, “the way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us” (3:16). Notice, John doesn’t write about the way we came to know a love, or God’s love, or a special love. Rather, Christ’s death on the Cross is the way we came to know “love,” itself. That means we didn’t really know it before. We might have some idea, some approximation of what love is, but until we come to know Jesus, until we understand his crucifixion as the revelation of love, we really don’t know what it is. We don’t know what it looks like. Jesus’ sacrifice is the way we come to know love itself.

We witness this revelation of love in the Passion reading this Sunday. We are prepared for it by Saint Paul who tells us that Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” That is, Jesus did not cling to himself. He didn’t cling to his own comfort and good feelings. He didn’t cling to the safety of divinity. What did he cling to? He clung to us. Because he loved us, he clung to what was good for us. More than anything, he wanted our salvation, which meant he clung to the Cross.

Love is not a feeling, but a decision. Love means to seek what is good for the other person, for the sake of the other person. Love is active, not passive. To love someone doesn’t mean to have nice feelings for him or her. It means to act on their behalf, to seek their benefit. This is why we can love our enemies. We can seek good things even if we don’t feel good things. Jesus proves this love: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Because of the Cross, we know what love looks like. We know that it exists. Furthermore, we know that it is possible, indeed it is commanded, that we love the same.