What is love? In 2012, this was the most searched phrase on Google. Imagine the almost infinite amount of information on the web and yet this was what everyone wanted to know – what is love? It shows you what really swims around deep in the human heart. But what exactly is love? It can be infuriating when we try to define it. But we know love when we see it. We know love as soon as we encounter it in the life of another person. Take Mother Teresa or instance. What was the secret of her influence? She embodied the love of God. Whether you were a believer or not, you just knew you. You did not need evidence. She was the evidence.
When we think of love, we usually think of the feeling of love, the powerful attraction of love, the falling in love. This high of love is powerfully attractive. And subconsciously we are looking for that something or someone who will be ‘it’ for us. That perfect relationship that will take the ache of loneliness away forever. We know from experience that this is does not work in practice but we don’t stop looking. Very often we are not looking for love but for the drug of infatuation. This leads us into all kinds of trouble.
When St Paul tells us what love is – Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it is not quick tempered, it sounds like a real downer. Is this love? How boring? St Paul is not talking of feelings at all. He is talking about work. Doing things. Curbing our anger, our selfishness. It is really hard work because of our selfishness.
Love, according to St Paul is actions and not primarily feelings. We hear people say – love is a decision. And they are right up to a point. Unfortunately it might give the impressions that love is just a matter of the will. I must decide to be patient and then be patient. But I pose this question to you. How successful do you honestly think you will be? Have you been patient all the time? Have you managed to be kind all the time? Yes love is an action. But there has to be something more.
St Paul lets us on to the secret in the opening of this passage. If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. St Paul does not say –if I do not feel love. Nor does he say if I do not act lovingly. But if I do not have love. I must have love in me. What is this thing? It is God in me. God is love and I can only truly love as God loves when God loves through me.
St Paul is well aware of human sin. Sin in me can corrupt the best gifts – of intelligence, or creativity. It can corrupt even the great spiritual gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, the gift of understanding and knowledge. As long as I am in the center, even my will to love, my decision to love will be tinged with selfishness. I want to get something out of it. Bernanos, the French Catholic writer says ‘As long as we remain in this life we can still deceive ourselves, think that we love by our own will, think that we love independently of God. But we are like madmen stretching our hands to clasp the moon reflected in water.’ Only God’s life in us can teach us to love
And this is where love is hard because I must get out of the center and let God in. Then I can love because God loves through me. Then love can be patient and kind even if we do not feel like it. Because the life of God works in the midst of our weakness. We see in God the most perfect love. God is Three Persons in One nature. Now look at us. We too are many persons in One human nature but look at how we live. We are at war with each other, in competition with each other, putting ourselves first. But consider how the Three Divine Persons live in such harmony and peace. Because each of them puts the other first. That is why if we are to have love, then God has to be at the center. When He enters, the selfish self must die.
Yes, love is a decision, it is an action but first and foremost love is a life, the life of God in us. Let us strive my brothers and sisters to make ourselves open to this life. Put sin and selfishness away that this life can grow in us. You cannot give what you do not have. You cannot love if you do not know what it is to be loved by God dwelling in you. By the love of Christ holding you up. This is what Pope Francis is getting at in the opening lines of the Joy of the Gospel ‘The joy of the gospel,’ he says, ‘fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew because love has found its home in our hearts once more.