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Some loves

January 3, 2012

Love comes into our lives in many ways, with just this in common: that those who love desire goods for each other, not just for themselves. Recently at Mass, I had a new insight about three loves, friendship, eros, and agape.

Friendship, as C.S. Lewis explains in his wonderful book The Four Loves, has the particular character that friends are involved in a shared project and their interest is focused on the project, not so much on themselves. Even the love between parents and children has this outward focus – the child wants to be like his father, and the father wants his child to achieve some things: growth, curiosity, and specific competence. Friends and family have a direction that is beyond and outside their mutual relationship; it is about the world and how the world works and how we live in it.

With eros, by which I do not mean sexuality (Lewis called this subset of Eros, Venus) the focus is between the lovers. They are, as Lewis puts it, looking at each other, not at the world. We can say more: there may be, between such lovers, a time or a phase when they are friends, discussing mutual projects and long thoughts; then there is a time when all the other projects fall aside for the “making of love” – the mutual gaze. It’s not so much that the projects are completely dropped, though they might be. But it is more that they are, for the moment, irrelevant, forgotten. It’s just lover and beloved, face to face.

Mothers and babies also have this kind of mutuality and face-to-face relationship. The nursing mother’s milk lets down when her baby cries and this sometimes happens even when the baby is far away, maybe at home or at a friend’s house while she is shopping. The body link is quite surprising.

So the love I call eros has a mutuality, which is quite different from outward-gazing friendship; those who love in this way also share even their physical consciousness. Men experience their wives’ labor. Mothers experience their babies’ earaches; that’s how they know the problem is an earache.

And St. Francis, St. Catherine of Siena, and Padre Pio experience the stigmata. They share the sufferings of the Body of Christ – of the whole Christ whom they love so face-to-face that they share his sufferings even in the body.

So that’s the first two loves: one is a shared gaze outwards; the other is a mutual gaze into each other.

Before going on, I want to reflect, in relation to this second love, that our bodies are our subconscious. We think of our bodies as quite outward and our subconscious as quite hidden, but plenty of health-care professionals recognize to varying degrees that the body bears the weight of the inmost self, right out to the fingertips and beyond. For example, anyone involved with kinesiology is aware of the way that the body carries the mind, the feelings, and whole realms of unconscious relationship with the world and with other people, so that when we touch another person, we certainly make a subconscious contact as well as a conscious one. Bringing consciousness to that unconscious contact sometimes allows us to bring healing to others.

And that brings us to the third love, agape, or charity, the love that reaches out to everyone.

The problem with loving everyone is that it so easily slips into loving no-one. Significantly, the giving of funds to the needy is sometimes called charity, and it’s not necessarily love at all, right? Of course that’s not the charity I’m talking about, but just to point out that “loving everyone” is not a simple matter.

What other love can there be? Isn’t it all just mixtures and permutations of the gaze outwards and the gaze inwards? Doesn’t that cover the ground?

There is one more possibility. It is possible that the true fulfillment of the all-embracing love of agape is the love of Jesus Christ in his Body, which is both an individual body and also the Church; and the Church in turn is a universal that reaches out to all who seek God in any honest way. I don’t want to be sloppy here; I am thinking of Giussani’s book The Religious Sense and I am thinking of John Paul II’s book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. The Body of Christ is the Church, every member, including a membership extends beyond those who know baptism to those who have not even heard the name of Jesus but seek to do God’s will in their deepest knowing of it. This knowledge is always a revelation, and that revelation is related to the specific revelation of Jesus. Enough for now; this is a blog, not a book.

Think of Padre Pio, who prayed for people all over the world because his first love was Jesus, and indeed, traveled all over the world to be with those Jesus chose to visit in his person. Thus his face-to-face love for Jesus opened into his love for others. Or think of St. Francis, whose love for the birds, the wolf, the sultan, and St. Clare was all overflowing with his love for Jesus.

Agape, then, is love for everyone, the ultimate reach of friendship, through love for Jesus in his Body.

And that is why he gives us his Body in the sacrament of the Eucharist and why viewing this sacrament as a symbol is not enough. There is no face-to-face with a symbol; the powerful avenue to loving everyone without slipping into loving no-one is to love Jesus Christ, in his Body.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather permalink
    January 9, 2012 4:10 pm

    Hi, my name is Heather! Please email me when you can, I have a question about your blog!

    HeatherVonSJ[at]gmail[dot]com

  2. Mignon permalink
    February 10, 2012 2:36 pm

    This was a wonderfully thoughtful piece. What you have to say about eros– and extending its meaning, in a way (I hadn’t thought about the love between the mother and nursing infant!)– is really interesting! I wonder, do you think Lewis had this idea of mutuality in mind also with the fourth love, storge, which if I’m remembering correctly, he characterizes as the love between parent and child?

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