It's been awhile since I posted any of my Youth Group talks. What follows is a rough transcript of it.
If you ever seen the ad campaign ‘Love has No Label’ put out by the Ad Council about diversity and inclusion, I’m here to tell you that is completely wrong. It has three. English is a beautiful expressive language that unfortunately our modern lazy usage has heap multiple meanings into one word as is the case with ‘love’.
|Book cover of encyclical|
Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI (who just had his 90th birthday) described love best in his encyclical, Deus Cartias Est (God is Love). A awe-inspiring title when you really think about it – God is Love. So, to explain the three labels of love Greek, one of the languages of the Bible is used.
We have philia: this is a mutual love between friends. So when I tell Lauren and Natalie I love them, which I do, it is philia love.
Next, we have eros: this it is an ascending, possessive love which seeks to receive from another. This is a physical love, or a physical manifestation of love, expressed between husband and wife.
Then we have agape: this is a descending love, oblative love in which one gives oneself to another. This is a selfless love seeking out what is good for another for the sake of the other.
If eros and philia love are concerned primarily with our relationships with others than agape is concerned primarily with our relationship with God as well as each other’s relationship with God. Think about it – in the Greek translation of the New Testament agape is the most often used word for love. This reflects the distinctive aspect of Christian understanding of love. Agape is, essentially, Christian love, which should be shared with everyone no matter how we feel - love isn't just about feelings. God commanded us to love our neighbors and enemies, not to like them.
Agape requires truth to be able to express it. We must know what is right and wrong, what is good, and what is bad for us as humans. Without truth, love becomes nothing more than mere sentiment – it is empty/ no substance. It becomes distorted because it no longer bears any weight.
The hardest part about agape is that it requires us to correct our neighbor when they stumble. We have a great example of this from the Bible in Galatians where St Paul corrects St Peter when he is behaving badly. There is also St Catherine of Siena who went to Pope Gregory XI and said that the Papacy must return to Rome (the popes had been living in Avignon, France – the pope must live in Rome because he is the Bishop of Rome). Can you imagine going to the Pope and telling him - 'Hey you got to straighten up your act'? I be terrified! These actions of St. Paul and St. Catherine are not done out of malice but because both St Paul and St Catherine wanted St Peter and Pope Gregory to be better people. It’s the same as when our parents correct us, they want us to be better.
Agape, Christian love, must be placed be placed above philia and eros, even when people hate us for it.
I will end with a quote from P. Benedict from another of his encyclicals Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) : “To love someone is to desire that persons good and to take effective steps to secure it.”
On a fun note, when ever I had to say agape, I pointed to the youth director who would say it like Dory in Finding Nemo would say escape. The kids love it and it was a good youth meeting!