Friday, August 19, 2011

The Law of Love

It seems strange to think of love as something that is the subject of a command. But that is exactly what the Lord affirms in today's Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40), when He was asked to state the greatest commandment. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind... You shall love your neighbor as yourself" are not given as suggestions, but rather commandments. How can you command someone to love?
One of the problems is that, in English, the word "love" means different things. I may say that I love my mother, I love that car, I love the color blue, I love the beach, etc. Even though I use the same word to describe my feelings about these things, each one means something different. Other languages use different words for each of these realities, but English is rather confusing. What they may all have in common, however, is that they are emotional responses. And emotional responses are influenced by a variety of factors. If these factors change, how can I be commanded to love?
The question betrays another problem with the modern concept of love when referring to a relationship, which sees it as an emotional response rather than a decision. "You can't help who you fall in love with" is frequently heard. But that very statement contains the answer to this dilemma. You see, there is a difference between being in love and loving. Two people may "fall in love" rather quickly, and this is a normal experience in today's world. But falling love is not the same as loving a person and is not even necessary. The love a parent has for a child is certainly not a result of being in love, but it is perhaps the strongest type of love. Being in love may lead to loving someone, but not necessarily. The difference is a choice that the people make. Choosing to love someone actually involves a series of choices made daily. I choose to overlook the little things that may drive me crazy. I choose to be faithful, even when they do something that disappoints me. I choose to emphasize the best and forgive the worst. I choose to put their needs ahead of my own. I choose to do for them without expecting anything in return.
All of these are ways that I make a decision to love. And if love is a decision (just like committing murder, lying, stealing, etc.), God's commandment makes sense. The real challenge is seeing these daily decisions as a means of expressing love. Every decision we make, in fact, is a decision that will either shoe love or not. Love God and love neighbor is a daily challenge, one that we are commanded to live. How will I follow this law of love today?

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