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On the meaning of love

Aggiornato il: 18 dic 2019

by Fr Serafino M. Lanzetta


“Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.” (John 13:34)

This teaching of the Holy Gospel focuses on the importance of love. This is the new commandment given by Christ before entering into His Passion and Death – a commandment that sums up all others, not superseding them, but bringing all of them (including the Ten Commandments) to their completion. Jesus in fact did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.



The love we show towards other people – to our brethren in faith first, and then all others – is the way by which we are known as disciples of the Lord. In fact, we can never love God if we do not love our neighbour. St John, in his first Epistle, says thus: “If any man say: I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God whom he seeth not?” (1 John 4:16) Love towards God must then be visible – concrete – in our every interaction with other people.


However, it is also true that if we do not love God, our love for one another will never be a proper act of charity – will never be a perfect, that is, self-giving love. Love needs a measure; it cannot be the measure of itself. It can never be itself the reason why we love; the reason must be discovered elsewhere – behind it – otherwise we always run the risk of loving as we wish, as we understand love. We need a measure by which to love, and that measure is God, because God is love.


It is therefore opportune to reflect on the nature of love. Love is a great word, but today it is much misused, especially when it is put against moral law (both natural and positive), for the fact that love would have no law. Hence freedom becomes an antagonist of the law. What is then love? It is a relation between two persons, and has its foundation in our will. In order to love, we have to will. When our will – that is, our soul – is not loving wholeheartedly and with no other interest than to love for its own sake, that relation is faulty; it is selfish.


We can distinguish three levels of love. First, there is the lowest one: eros, according to the Greeks. Eros is a love that is more inclined to self-satisfaction. It is to love another for the sake of oneself. Love, in this sense, is something I do for me, to please myself. Second, there is the love of friendship: filia. This is about loving another person for the sake of that person. In true friendship, there is no selfishness. This form of love, although more perfect, is not the one Jesus is asking of us when He instructs us to love each other. We must strive to attain the third level of love: agape. Agape is a love of communion – a sharing of one’s life with another person, to the point of even giving it up for the sake of that person. “God is agape.” (1John 4:16) The new commandment of Christ is right about this request of love. It is a communion. In agape there is no selfishness, nor even the simple consideration that my neighbour is a person worthy to be loved; rather, it is a truly unconditional love, the offer of a divine measure – the love of Christ for us unto the end. What is this end?


So we understand why Jesus adds to His commandment a second part: “…as I have loved you, you also must love one another.” In Christ we have the model of love – how to love – and also its definitive truth. “As I have loved you” is now the imperative for all Christians to conform their lives to this love. How did Jesus love us? We should again make reference to the Gospel of St John to find out. In the same chapter, at the beginning, we find these words: “…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (John 13:1) This end is the Cross. Let us remember that Jesus is pronouncing these teachings before His Passover. While nailed to the Cross, stretching wide His arms as to embrace mankind, Jesus said, “It is finished” – “It is consummated,” (John 19:30) and breathed His last.


The sacrifice of the Cross was thereby accomplished. The love of Christ unto the end is therefore a reference to the completion of the sacrifice of the Cross. Jesus, our divine Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, was slain, was immolated. In His death, we have been saved. Dear brothers and sisters, this is to love – to die for the sake of another. Jesus died for us. Are we able to die to ourselves in order to love as Jesus did, and give our life to another as an exchange of divine charity? Christian love is not a social work, or mere human compassion. It is giving ourselves to another person as Christ did for us, and for the sake of His love for us.


Love requires sacrifice up to the Cross. Love, if it is not sacrificial, might easily become another way to merely display our skills, our philanthropy. We not only give to others part of our time, our money, or share with them our food – we give them our hearts. We not only help a person in need – we see in that person Jesus Christ, our divine Saviour. Love needs God; conversely, God wishes to be loved in a free exchange of love for love.


“Love unto the end” is finally also the manifestation of the Holy Eucharist as the sacrifice of the Cross unto death. Christ loved us to such an extent that He immolated His life for us. Again, in the Gospel of St John, the beloved disciple of the Lord, we read: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)


In the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood, we have the infinite love of God, but abased. God became man and died for us, so as to be ground in His death as the grain of wheat fallen to the earth (cf. John 12:24) in order to become bread – the Bread of Life. If we do not adore the Holy Eucharist, we have no strength to serve the poor and the most in need with unconditional – divine – love. Love can never put the sacraments aside and say: Better to do something than waste my time in worship and prayer! Let us always begin with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, so as to love in truth, according to that divine measure – a love with no measure, that is eternal, and which transforms us from egocentric persons into Christ-centered faithful. So may we love with enduring charity. Amen.

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