Love is definitely the theme of this Sunday’s readings. In his little book The Four Loves the greater writer C.S. Lewis describes four different ways of loving other folks – and ourselves.
The first of these is eros (eros), which is physical love—the love of young lovers, the love of Romeo and Juliet. The second is philia, (filia), which in a way is the highest form of love. It is the love of friendship; it is essentially mutual and shared, and touches every aspect of a person’s being. It shows itself in a total transparency through intimacy, affection and perhaps sexually. It covers marriage and all other genuinely close relationships. To experience such a relationship is one of the great blessings of life.
The third love is prautes (prauths), sometimes translated as ‘gentleness’ or ‘meekness’ (as in “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”). It suggests someone who is unassuming, undemanding and totally submissive to what God wants, but also warm and caring.
Finally, agape describes a love which reaches out to others without expecting anything in return. This is the love which the father in the story of the Prodigal Son shows to the wayward son who wasted all his father’s gifts on a debauched life. It is this agape which we too are called to manifest, especially towards our enemies or those who drive us nuts. We are not asked to love them with eros or philia. That wouldn’t make sense. To love them with agape is to want the best for them, to want them to reform, to be changed, to be healed of hate and negativity. I might add too, that this agape is also a way we are called to love ourselves! Love your neighbor as yourself, said Jesus.
One of the great problems of our Church and world is the negativity which permeates everything. It’s everywhere, from schools to workplaces to homes to civic groups to churches. We even inflict it on ourselves by our constant self-loathing or self-criticism as not being good enough, or attractive enough, or smart enough, or whatever “not enough” obsesses us at the moment. It reflects a deep dissatisfaction with one’s own life. A little bit of agape would go a long ways towards personal and institutional healing … beginning of course with oneself. The institution won’t be healed until I am first healed.
Be God’s smile for someone today!
Fr. Herb, C.S.C.