It’s Valentine’s Day. More importantly, this is World Day of Marriage when we raise special awareness and express support to our couples who share in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Love is certainly in the air!
This may be a good opportunity to recall the three types of love and, while different, they are never isolated from one another. For example, the love experienced by a young man and woman who begin to date each other is basic attraction. This human love, known as eros, desires to draw another person close to oneself—and this pulling toward each other is often strong and passionate. The challenge is to keep this love pure and virtuous. Otherwise, this type of love becomes tragically reduced to mere pleasure or using others as objects. Fornication, adultery, lust, masturbation, pornography, and other illicit uses of the sexual act are enemies of real eros. Marriage, when lived with integrity, aligns this type of love with the Creator’s original intention.
As beautiful as this eros is, however, it is not complete. Only when their relationship develops does a couple move from pulling to a deeper desire for giving without cost. This is evident in healthy (and wonderfully imperfect) marriages. The young married couple eventually experiences the gravity of choosing to love each other and their children as eros advances to agape, a self-sacrificing love. Ask any parent what’s in it for them as they get up in the middle of the night to feed an infant, to drive a thankless teen, or make every effort to lift up a spouse during illness or difficult times. This agape actually provides order for us as human beings who are created in flesh and spirit. It moves us from self-preoccupation to self-donation.
If we want to see a perfect example of this agape love, we look to Jesus Christ who is the incarnate love of God. He always desires to gather us to Himself and, in turn, offers Himself as a gift for us all. Through our discipleship—especially as we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice—we become configured to Christ who continually draws us to Himself and, because we share in the one bread and cup, we are drawn together as members of His body. We can see how we’re drawn to Jesus and then broken, poured, and given for others.
Within this dynamic between eros and agape, another expression of love becomes evident: philia (“brotherly love”). When living with balance between eros and agape, one is able to recognize the true goodness and worth of a neighbor, to love one with purity of heart and to serve that person with authentic joy and concern for his or her needs.
May our married couples continue to witness to Christ the Bridegroom who gave His life for his Bride, the Church. And may each of us, as members of His body, continue to discover the radical notion of this Christian love! Love isn’t just love—authentic love transforms and then demands we go and lay down our lives.
In Christ’s love,