John 13: 34-35 “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The last two weeks have been unlike any I’ve had in some time. My emotions have run the gamut from worry about some serious and scary health concerns within my family, to feeling so much love for and from God, my family, and my parish community, that I find it difficult to describe. I think my frequent and fervent prayers about the former were answered and actually begot the latter. The emotional love I am feeling is, I believe, a direct result of the acts of love shown to me from others and by my acts of love to them. It’s the act of loving that has built a bridge over that emotional gap. And it’s that bridge that has caused me to examine it and to count it as one of my blessings. Let me explain.
Many years ago I lived in England and, as a seventh grader, I studied Latin. I don’t remember ever learning the Latin word for the noun form of the word meaning “Love” but I remember, like it was yesterday, learning to conjugate the verb “To Love”: Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamus, Amatus, Amant (I love, you love, he/she loves, etc.). And, even though I memorized this, I don’t think I understood what it really meant as a verb, or an action word. Instead, I lived my life for the next fifteen years taking for granted that it was only a feeling, a noun, not something to be done.
In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that I probably had not yet made that connection when I married my wonderful wife thirty-one years ago. Love, to me, was a feeling, and any actions that could have been interpreted as love were probably more a result of trying to satisfy my own desires rather than hers. I was self-centered and immature into my early twenties. My only consolation is that most everyone my age was the same way. All these years later, when I look around our world and examine its culture, it looks much the same to me.
Why is it this way? Is it just a part of growing up? Is it our culture? Is it due to parenting in today’s society? Do some parents work so hard to build the egos of their children that they become self-centered and live in a “me” world?
With luck, young adults will have a unique defining moment that helps them to redefine what love means, that it’s an action word, a verb, and not just a feeling.
My defining moment didn’t happen with my marriage although I felt extreme love for my wife. It wasn’t with the birth of my first child, either, although I had never felt new love like that before. No. It was the simple act of understanding the phrase, “Love is a verb”, that I read in a book by author Stephen Covey when I was trying to get control of my life during a very crazy period. Quite simply, Covey wrote that if you want to feel more love, then you have to give more love. Love is an action word. It’s something you do. What a novel idea for me at the time!
Have you ever stopped to consider the idea of love being something you do, not just something you feel?
I like to think that, since then, I’ve grown up and learned a thing or two. I wish I could somehow effectively teach teens, young adults, and others who’ve never before stopped to consider the concept, the definition of love as explained by C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity. In his chapter on the theological virtue of Charity, Lewis writes,
“Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense’. But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people. Christian Love for our neighbors is quite a different thing from liking or affection. But, liking or [having] affection for people makes it easier to be charitable towards them. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them.”
And, I would like to explore with those students what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)
Fortunately for me, I was old enough for the meaning of ‘Love is a Verb’ to make some sense. I started practicing this new idea. Lo and behold, I noticed that my intentional efforts to do things to show my wife and children how much I loved them returned good results. I felt more love from them. But the biggest eye opener was something unexpected – the more I showed them love, the more love I felt for them. The engineer that I am recognized this as exponential growth – a powerful thing.
How do you show love? Have you received something in return which you never imagined would happen?
So, I rocked on for about twenty-five more years in this way, focusing on a loving relationship with those closest to me, my wife and four daughters, (who, I’m proud to say, are much more mature and responsible than I ever was at their age) and my extended family. And, with just a few exceptions, that was about the extent of the loving in my life. The people in that circle made up my world. Oh, I had a few people I called friends, people at work and neighbors who I liked but they were not “loving” relationships under this new definition of love.
It has only been in the last 15 months, since my first Christ Renews weekend, that I’ve been able to truly extend my circle of love beyond my family. Since then, my new extended family of my Catholic community has shown me example after example of love in action and I have been so blessed to have had opportunities to act with love for them, too. And, over the last two weeks, I have felt God’s love, and Jesus’ presence next to me, more intensely than ever before. I can’t help but believe there is a direct correlation between these feelings of love and peace, my time spent praying, and the reciprocating actions of love I have shared with family and friends.
Do you notice the noun version of “love” the more you practice the verb version of “love”? Do you have an experience to share?
Good day and God Bless.