By Jeff Kirby
Where’s the love? In modern society, the person seems lost in his desire and search for love. Many things seem to falsely promise and incompletely assure us of love, and so where can we look for real love? What do we even mean by “love”?
On Valentine’s Day we celebrate an emotional love. The day is set aside for heartfelt sharing, hugs and kisses, chocolates and candlelight dinners. The human person shows his or her love through various romantic sacramentals. The soul’s emotions are ordered and expressed in a proper way, which build up the beloved person. These are sincere and needed acts of love in a relationship.
On Ash Wednesday we observe a sacrificial love. The traced Cross on a person’s forehead reminds him or her of the need for discipline within the order of love. The day is marked by abstinence from meat, fasting from food, and the “giving up” of something for Lent. In these actions, the person affirms his or her own weakness and fallenness. They promise to work to order any disorder, to reform any formlessness in themselves, and to align lower desires to higher virtues.
Many people would place these two movements of love as opposites. They would argue for one of them, to the discredit of the other. But as human persons, with a vocation to love and be loved, we have a nature which seeks both.
It has become too fashionable in many circles to dismiss romantic love or the emotions as unimportant. It’s argued that this is not “real” love; meanwhile the person’s soul and its emotions swell and demand attention. In secular arguments, sacrificial love is set aside and seen as detrimental to personal growth. The person is encouraged to give in to fallen and wayward desires.
To choose only one of these movements of love, however, would do violence to the integrity of the human person and cause serious repercussions within him or her. The human person needs to give and receive both. The extremes of being a stoic without any emotions or of being a flower child without any foundation are real and can disrupt the person’s capacity to fully love. As persons, made in God’s image, we are called and inclined to seek a full and authentic love.
We turn and look to God for example, lessons, and the grace to live this life of love. It is his divine love which sustains and carries our human love. Our love, by emotion and sacrifice, should always seek to bring out the good in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us.
Love always seeks the best in others, which is sometimes sacrificially hard, and others times emotionally joyful. Love desires the good because it’s real, because it survives, because it doesn’t disappoint and lie. It always works to edify the person and his or her talents and gifts.
The reality of love cannot be contained in only one expression of the human person, but extends into his many dimensions and depends upon both the will, intellect and emotions to demonstrate itself. In this way, the human person can be more fully alive in being loved and in loving others.
Jeff Kirby, a seminarian with the Diocese of Charleston, is taking a pastoral year at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors.