There is a word that appears both as a noun and a verb a total of nine times in this Sunday’s Second Reading (1 John 4:7-10) and another nine times in Sunday’s Gospel (John 15:9-17). That word is “love” – a word also frequently found in the prayers of the Mass.
As often as that word is used in the scriptures and in the liturgy, it appears even more frequently in music. There are more than 1,100 songs with the word “love” in their titles, and tens of millions of songs about love have been written over the years.
Love is a popular word indeed. But what exactly is love?
Love is usually understood as an intense emotion. Love means having strong feelings toward another person, such as feelings of tenderness, kindness, desire, sexual attraction, warmth, yearning, infatuation, caring, and so on. When we tell someone that we love them we are admitting we have strong feelings for them.
In Sunday’s Second Reading, we hear, “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” But if, as Saint John says, God is love, and love is an intense emotion and feeling, then it is easy to conclude that John is saying that God is an infinitely intense, divine emotion.
However, John also says, “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”
In the Gospel, Jesus says something similar. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
In both readings, love is not an emotion but is something that leads to action. God, who is love, sends his Son who gives his life for us, and in return expects us to follow his example. God does good for us and he expects us to do good for others. We are to love as God loves.
Love in the scriptures is not a matter of feelings and emotions but rather, love is actively doing good for another person.
For example, when Jesus tells us, “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27), he is not telling us that we should have feelings of tenderness, kindness, attraction, warmth, and caring for those who hate us and would do us harm. That would be unreasonable to say the least. Instead, Jesus is telling us to do good for our enemies. He makes that clear when he goes on to say, “do good to those who hate you….Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
We see love in action on the first pages of the Bible. God, who is love, does good. God creates man and woman, and God creates the world that will be their home. Then “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31) God proclaims he has done something good!
In our day, love is often equated with emotion and feelings. Such love can be fleeting, demand little, and have no lasting effect. It can be like a song that lifts your spirit for a moment and then fades from memory.
Love that is understood as doing good, demands commitment, action, and sacrifice. If we have any doubt of that, all we need to do is look at the cross. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski
May the Risen Lord continue to bless you
with his presence and peace
throughout this Easter Season!