What Does It Mean to Love?

In March I wrote an article called “Chastity and Sexuality”. As part of that article, I discussed how sexual acts are meant to be an expression of the love between a man and a woman in marriage. Sex without love is a mere physical act without meaning. In love, sexuality expresses its true meaning.

Today I would like to reflect on what it means to love and care for others. To do so, I will use material from Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap.’s new book, Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living by Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. (New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2021).

To define Love, Archbishop Chaput relies on C.S. Lewis who relies on the Greek language that has four different words for love.

  1. Storge, or the bond of empathy”
  2. Philia, or the bond of friendship”
  3. Eros, or romantic love”
  4. Agape, unselfish, sacrificial love – a reflection of God’s own love” (165).

English lacks this distinction. We have only one word for love. As Archbishop Chaput writes, “a husband can say he “loves” his wife and he “loves” cabbage. The word is the same. The meaning is rather different” (165). Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor (see Mark 12:28-34). We are called to love everyone but we love different people in different ways. This is why the distinction of the four types of love is so important. It is only in understanding that we love in different ways that we can fully understand human sexuality and chastity.

Love is more than just attraction. “Love is always more than a feeling. Emotions change. Feelings come and go. But real love is a choice, act of the will” (Archbishop Chaput, 165). We choose to love. In understanding this choice, it is important to realize that we can love a person with more than just one type of love from the four presented above. In fact, the different types of love can support one another. For instance, Archbishop Chaput writes, “Eros produces the family. Agape sustains it” (165).

Eros produces the family” in that it is in “eros” that a man and woman come together in the bond of marriage. It is in eros that a husband and wife come together in sexual intimacy and bear children. For the marriage and the family to survive, agape love, a sacrificial love is required. The husband and wife must be willing, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to be willing to make sacrifices for each other and for their children. The sacrifices they make strengthen their marriage. It is also a model for society to follow. To be a healthy society, we must be wiling to make sacrifices for others, even for strangers. This is the love that Jesus calls us to when He says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). In fact, Jesus doesn’t just say it. This is what Jesus does for us on the Cross.

God chooses to love us. God does not need us. God does want us (see Archbishop Chaput, 190). God is love (1 John 4:8).

Archbishop Chaput goes on to write, “First, philia is a preferential bond with a friend. The agape of the Gospel is non-preferential, like the love of God himself” (227). We choose our friends. We choose to love them in a particular way. This philia love can disappear. We lose old friends and find new ones. In following God’s commandment, love thy neighbor, we are called to agape love for all, even our enemies. We need philia love because we are created to love. We need intimacy but not all intimacy is eros love, romantic love. We need all four types of love as love is what we are created for.

How many friends do you have? I am not talking about the number of “friends” you have on Facebook. There are people who have hundreds of friends on Facebook but do they really know any of them. We need true friends.

Archbishop Chaput relies on Aristotle as he writes of true friendship.

“True friendship, for Aristotle, is more than mere mutual utility, though friends naturally seek to help and be useful to one another when the need arises. True friendship is also more than the joy friends take in each other’s company, though the pleasure of “fitting together” obviously animates friends. And true friendship is also more than a disposition of friendliness. We can be friendly with many people; we can true friends with only a few. Friendship demands the investment of a person’s time and energy. It involves risk, and also candor. It requires a willingness to place the task of loving the friend above our own natural appetite for being loved. the true and highest form of friendship, for Aristotle, is that of good persons who resemble and reinforce each other in virtue” (Archbishop Chaput, 228-229).

To truly live we need true friends. We need friends to help us become better people, to become who God calls us to be. We need true friends to help us understand what it means to love. This is what it means for friends to fit together. We need friends, philia love, to understand what eros love, the romantic love of a husband and a wife is meant to be. Storge love, empathy, motivates us to care for others. Philia love motivates us to agape love for all. Eros love strengthens us.

When looking for friends, we need people who “see the same truth“, who “care about the same truth” (Archbishop Chaput, 230). We do not have to go through life alone. We rely on God and we rely on true friends.


Fr. Jeff

One Comment

  1. Great blog! I am reading the Bible in a year with Fr. Mike Schmitz and he also referred to CS Lewis and this same concepts of love. I would love to see this as part of all Pre Cana instructions and maybe the RCIA content. Margi

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