Recently I’ve seen on the internet a picture of a Catholic priest; the ironic caption read: “the expert on love, sex, marriage and the raising of children”. Obviously, what could a Catholic priest know about these things, supposedly having had no practical experience of them? This way of thinking is quite widely held among many people. Do they all believe that only a doctor who has personally experienced a broken leg or broken arm can successfully help those with broken bones? Or that only those firemen whose houses have burnt down can properly extinguish a fire? Of course, experience has a distinctive and – in many aspects – crucial impact on performing a job. But education and knowledge are even more important, because they provide tools for the professional to analyse mistakes and to correct them in the future. A desirable attitude to cultivate is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. In this regard active priests have a plentiful supply of them. So, I think I’ve just cunningly justified my right to speak about love.
Love has been one of the most desirable things for centuries, as far as human memory can reach back; and it still remains highly valued by modern people. On the other hand, disappointments brought by failed love are among the strongest and the most bitter. Not just between lovers; think of parents left behind by their adult offspring, and of neglected or abandoned children. Again and again we hear on the news stories about jealous, unloved people stalking, hurting or even killing their only recently loved ones. I’ve met many couples so passionately in love that they couldn’t imagine living separate lives, but finding themselves some years down the line in such immense mutual hatred they couldn’t imagine living together. In innumerable meetings and discussions with these poor souls, I discovered that one seemingly trivial aspect made a disastrous contribution to their failings.
In today’s gospel Jesus appeals to us: ‘love one another’. Let’s make a simple experiment: can you hate me right now, please? Whoever managed this, raise your hands please. Nobody? Apparently nobody here has managed to hate me in an instant (or to own up to it bravely). Why is it almost impossible to do that? We know the answer: you have no reason to hate me right now. So, if my appeal to you to feel hatred towards me is so unsuccessful, how on earth could Jesus’ call for love towards everyone, even enemies, be more appealing? The problem is that we understand love as nice, uplifting, joyous feelings. We ‘love’ as long as we feel these emotions, and when they have faded away, our ‘love’ is gone. This is that trivial aspect of love that I’ve mentioned: love is not a set of emotions – although it’s great if they do accompany love. As we can hardly control our feelings, appealing to them is pointless. Jesus appeals to our minds and to our willpower.
Love is a decision made by a person to build a relationship with another person: lover, spouse, child, parent, God. Love is not a constant, unchanging thing. As each one of us is subject to ever-changing social and natural environments, with our constantly fluctuating moods – we have to re-make our decision to love every time. It’s a dynamic relationship, changing its expression with the passing of time and the changing of circumstances. Recall your first days and months of love, and compare them to the present moment. Your love is different; or to put it better: it expresses itself in a different way. Jesus calls us to love one another. We don’t have to like one another – as it’s a matter of feelings. But we can love one another – as it involves our minds and willpower, regardless of the feelings.