February 7, 2010


So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

- 1 Cor. 13: 13

The word “love,” as you know, has been co-opted by Madison Avenue to sell us products that, they promise, will deliver love. According to them, love is to be found in cologne, chocolates & roses. The one with the most cosmetic surgeries, makeovers, clothes, cars, & implants wins. Needless to say, such “love,” defined as surface glitz & ‘personality,’ is shallow & no love at all. It is as far from real love as you can get. So let’s get at St. Paul ’s truth about love.

The fact is, love is not in the feelings or the glands, although they are important & a marriage without sentiment or sex is a poor one. The point is, they are not primary. To sound pedestrian, love is in the will, in the decisions we make, & the harder the decision in spite of the feelings, the greater the love. Love can operate, often does operate, when feelings are fearful, timid or sad. That’s why the Russian writer Dostoevsky still has the best line on love: “Love in action is a harsh & dreadful thing….”

The alcoholic lawyer, Sydney Carton, in Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, who takes the place of another at the guillotine, is right when he says, “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done.” St. Maximilian Kolbe, trembling in his shoes, steps forward to die in place of a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. That, too, is love. Karl Downs, a pastor in Oakland , CA died at an early age of a heart attack. Several years before that, he was asked by Juvenile Court to take responsibility for a young man who was always getting into trouble. With misgiving, he accepted that responsibility &, in a tough love way, became a substitute father for that boy.

No one remembers Karl Downs, but we all remember the name of that boy. He was Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play major league baseball, an outstanding athlete, & a good man. That takes love. Martin Luther King was a seriously flawed man, yet his love for his people & his thirst for justice led him to express that love in a harsh & dreadful way: He knew he would be killed. His feelings were ones of apprehension, but his decision was to love, & it cost him.

Love, as Thomas Aquinas reminds us, is in the mind, in the will, in the decisions we make. Feelings are wonderful & necessary. They embellish love & we would be enormously poorer without them, but they should not be indentified with love. They should be identified with the decision to do what is best for the beloved, which is why parents drag their kids to the dentist. Love is a harsh & dreadful thing: just ask Jesus on the cross. AMEN!