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Back to Basics: why is love so important? by Fr. Anthony Mourad

March 11, 2020

Most people would agree that an essential part of what it means to be human is our capacity to love. And while we express in many forms what we consider love,  is there something more there than meets the eye? If there more to Love that what we simply perceive and feelLet’s take a closer look at why love is the one of the fundamental elements of the Christian reality.  

 

Part 1: 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen.  

 

My beloved it should come to no surprise to any of you, that Love is very much one of the most fundamental elements of the Christian life. Scripture reveals to us that Our Lord Jesus Christ taught that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’& ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Our Lord even goes on to say that the entirety the law hangs on these very commandments. But why is this the case? Why is Love so essential? And is it possible that what our Lord defines as love, is not always what we have in mind.  

 

Today, we want to dig a little deeper and try to identify what the proper understanding of Love is as a fundamental and key element in properly living out our Christian vocation. And so to this, I want us to spend some time identifying what Love is not, and then examine what we can learn from Scripture and the early church in regards to what love actually is.   

 

Part 2:  

 

Among those who spoke of love in scripture, none surpass St John the Beloved who writes about in both his gospel account as well as his epistles. The evangelist records Christ himself teaching the disciples and explaining to them the importance of love. He goes on to explain that Jesus gave them a new commandment, one that would define the very foundation of their purpose and discipleship. Let’s read together from John 13:  

 

“34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

 

Lets unpack this for a moment. Christ is doing two very important things: 1) he is calling us to love as He loved and 2) he is saying that it is our Love for one another that will serve as our identity.  This, my beloved, is a radically different calling to love than what we are used to today. Allow me if you will, to paint a picture of what love looks like now in todays fallen world. We throw around the word love as if it had no meaning: I love this movie, I love ice cream, I love your dress… We express love through gift giving, through chocolates and flowers and teddy bears; we have a day in the year that is dedicated to love which is more of a consumeristic ploy rather than an actual celebration of love. And finally and most unfortunately, love has become limited to mere feeling and emotion inside us. And because we assume that love is that chemical reaction within us, or that deep desire for something or someone, we then begin to express ourselves by saying things such as “I’ve fallen out of love with so and so…” or  “the feeling of love has faded away…” We even speak of love as if it was something that could be rekindled, or jump started…  

 

According to todays standards, an act of love is limited to one where I make another person feel something positive. And while there is no denying that this can be part of the effects of love, we must realize that this is a very superficial understanding of all that love is meant to be. For the Christian person, the greatest expression of Love was the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His ultimate sacrifice upon the cross which He offered for the life of the world. If this becomes our standard, then we will very quickly realize that love needs to be redefined in our minds and hearts if we truly desire to fulfill the commandments of God.  

 

Part 3:  

 

Beloved let us step back and examine the love that we see expressed by our Lord for all His creation. We do not believe in a God who simply feels strong emotions for us, or where he desires simply to please us, no! St Paul explains that the Eternal Logos of God, deeply desired to come save creation and “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2: 6-8) And this is the Love that we speak of in Christianity – a sacrificial, self-denying, self-emptying – kenotic – ahgapi love.  

 

 Also, notice that we do not simply say God loves us; St John the beloved says that God is love! This reveals to us that when we are called to love, we are not simply giving in to an emotional inclination of sentiment and feeling, rather I am tapping into God Himself. I am participating in the Life of the All Holy Trinity when I chose to love as He loved. Now this again, redefines so much. Love is not merely a reaction to circumstances or a matter of mood or preference, love is a choice! And dare I say, a state of being!  

 

Now St Cyril of Alexandria comments on this and explains that our calling to love is by definition the very expression that Christ himself revealed to us during his time on earth. He explains that while the law of Moses clearly taught to Love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength, what Christ now adds is of immense importance. Christ adds “as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” A new standard is set. A new revelation of Love has been demonstrated. Let us read together what St Cyril teaches on the matter:  

 

The law of Moses mandated the necessity of loving our brothers as ourselves, yet our Lord Jesus the Christ loved us far more than he loved himself. Otherwise, he would have never descended to our humiliation from his original exaltation in the form of God and on an equality with God the Father, nor would he have undergone for our sakes the exceptional bitterness of his death in the flesh, nor have submitted to beatings from the Jews, to shame, to derision, and all his other sufferings too numerous to mention. Being rich, he would never have become poor if he had not loved us far more than he loved himself. It was indeed something new for love to go as far as that! Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, wealth or anything else before love of our brothers and sisters. If need be, we even need to be prepared to face death for our neighbors salvation as our Saviors blessed disciples did, as well as those who followed in their footsteps. To them the salvation of others mattered more than their own lives, and they were ready to do anything or to suffer anything to save souls that were perishing. [St Cyril of Alexandria – Commentary of Gospel of John – 9]  

 

The matter is therefore clear – love can only mean to share in the very life of Christ our King and our God. It is not limited to strong feeling or emotion, not limited to making others happy through words and gifts, but rather the real offering of our freedom, our being, and even our lives for the sake of another. My beloved, this is the foundation on which all our lives are built. This is how the world will know that we are His disciples: That we love the Lord and our neighbor as He loved us.    

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