Imagine for a second a world without love; would you want to live in it at all?
We all need love. Singers sing and writers write of this desire, but love is not just for the seeker, the poet, the artist, or the troubadour. The helpless newborn, the old and the feeble, and even the strong and the independent have this universal need for love. Our existence depends on love—love that comes from another and love that we give to another.
Love is deeply embedded in us, in our hearts, in our minds, and in the very fabric of our human nature. Science, philosophy, and psychology have long shown this; recent brain imaging studies corroborate the evidence that we truly are hardwired for both giving and receiving love.
We were created out of love; we love because God first loved us. Simply put, to love is to be human. And as St. Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We find rest in God’s love for God is love. God draws us to himself in spite of and through our restlessness to find rest, peace, and joy in him. Centuries after St. Augustine, St. Thérèse of Lisieux reiterated this very human need for respite in God when she said, “To love You as You love me I must borrow Your very Love – then only, can I find rest.”
A Love Story
Life is one great love story between Creator and creation, between Lover and beloved. And the incomprehensible powerful force that drives the story is God’s love. It is also a mystery story, too big and too complex for the human mind to fathom. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down to earth to break down the mystery for us that we might inch our way towards comprehending God’s great love through his words and through his very life.
In John 13:34, Jesus gave it to us straight as a new command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Everybody knows what he meant because his words were backed by his actions, dying on the cross for his beloved. And there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13).
The meaning of love remains the same today as 2,000 years ago even though over time, the word has been abused and thrown out of its proper place. Yet, although we’re all guilty of misusing the word (“I love pizza!”), we know that the meaning of love is definitely deeper and more profound than our appetites and desires.
Further, love is more than a feeling. Love lives long after the flood of dopamine and oxytocin, the neurochemicals in the brain involved in feelings of love. Love transcends the positive and the negative moments. For love is a steadfast offering, a sacrifice. It is a choice. Our free will allows us to choose, and to love is to choose what is good for another. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, reminds us:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:4-8)
Better to Give Love than to Receive
In the chapels of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order Saint Teresa of Calcutta founded, are two notable things: a crucifix and the inscription “I thirst.”
Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for us, uttered these words on the cross. The One who loves us thirsts for our love. Saint Teresa responded to those words of Jesus with love: love for God and love for her neighbors. She showed love to the poorest of the poor, the unloved, the lonely, the forgotten, and the unwanted. How do we show our love for God? Saint Teresa showed us how, by living out Christ’s words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
What Saint Teresa accomplished is incredible and not easy to imitate, but let this quote of hers give us courage: “We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”
Images of God Who is Love
Drawn to God’s love and drawing from God’s love, she emanated and gave love. Giving love generates more love, for God’s ever-flowing love abounds. “Love attracts love,” according to St. Teresa of Avila. And where this spirit of love and giving is, the spirit of joy is. Rewards of profound joy are not only waiting for us in heaven but are ready to shower us in the present, here on earth, as we share the love of God with others.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). According to recent scientific studies, performing acts of kindness leads to increases in the performer’s own happiness levels. Receiving love may give us happiness but giving love can result in a profound sense of joy. Inherent in our acts of giving love are rewards of joy and love multiplied. Loving our neighbors is more than just a commandment or a nice thing to do. It is the opportunity to live out the highest expression of ourselves as sons and daughters of God, made in the image of him who is Love.