~Familiaris Consortio #36
Charity makes it possible for us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mt 22:37). And charity allows us to love everyone else, both our friends as well as enemies, just as God does. Clearly, charity is our earthly chance to live in goodness and love.
But what exactly is love? In order to answer this age old question, one first has to understand that love can be divine (from God) or natural (part of man). Divine love is charity. It is the highest and greatest form of love. It demonstrates itself as a total commitment to self giving. Divine love is permanent, unconditional and eternally faithful to what is right, good, true and beautiful.
At baptism, charity is infused into the human soul making it possible for the person to live in relationship with the Holy Trinity and love God. And, because charity is part of the soul, the person has the capability of loving others like God does.
Let’s take a look at natural love. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, love is the most basic human passion (CCC 1765). It causes us to desire goodness and move toward that goodness. When love moves us toward something (or someone) that is truly good it reflects divine love. And, when love moves us toward something (or someone) that is not good, it leads us away from God.
It takes a long time to overcome one’s selfish nature in order to put concern for other people before one’s own desires. Indeed, charity requires a lifetime of conversion for all of us, a process that children are just beginning. They need to be guided into the world of selflessness. This guidance is much more effective when it comes from a conscious effort on the part of the parents, and when it is preceded by and enforced by the parents’ own modeling of charity.
Directing human love toward God’s love is no easy task because our culture has a weak and insufficient concept of love. Our society tends to think that love is little more than a feeling. The most obvious example is how the term “making love” has come to mean simply sharing sexual enjoyment. Reducing love to just a feeling robs us of the greatest joy and human fulfillment that God has planned for us.
Human love must be a mixture of body and spirit because human beings are an integration of body and spirit. Love does include feelings, but it also includes choice. Love does involve seeking what is pleasurable, but it also involves sacrificing what is pleasurable for the sake of others. When it comes to thinking about human love part of our confusion stems from the fact that the English language has only one word to describe all of the many facets of human love. Think about it – we use the same term of “love” for things like pizza, chocolate and steak as we do for loving our friends, children and spouses. It is clear to most parents that there is a world of difference between the love for things and love for human persons. How can we orient our human love towards divine charity if we do not understand the fullness of human love?
Taking the time to learn about the dimensions of love will clear any misunderstanding one might have about authentic human love. And, examining the facts of human love will likely result in a greater appreciation for God’s divine love for us.
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