Because of the lengthy passion reading, I've been asked to keep this brief, so this will probably be the shortest homily you ever hear from me on a Sunday.
We're living in an era and culture in which the word "love" is greatly misunderstood, greatly misused, and greatly undervalued. We love our pets. We love pizza. We love getting our nails done.
Well, some of us do...
We have a single word for many dramatically different emotions, preferences, and actions; so I want to be really clear on what the Church and what scripture mean by the word "love."
Love in the sense of human relationships is expressed in scripture by four different terms in Greek: phileo, which is the kind of love that friends have for each other; eros, which is romantic love; storge, which is the love expressed as natural familial affection and obligation; and agape, which we often call unconditional love.
The last of these is what we want to address: agape. It is the highest ideation of love we have—love that gives everything. In the language of theology, love is not a feeling. Love is not about the heart palpitations and wooziness that two people feel when they are attracted to each other. Love is an act of the intellect and will, which makes it a moral act. Love does something.
Love does something.
The philosopher Jean Vanier made this claim about love, and if you've heard me preach at a wedding, you might remember how fond I am of this description: "To love someone is to show them their beauty, their worth, and their importance."
"To love someone is to show them their beauty, their worth, and their importance."
Love is completely directed at the other. Not at what I get out of it, but what I give.
Love is also in the action. Love, true unconditional agape love, is in the sacrifice that one makes for another: the sacrifice we make for our families when we work at jobs we don't like, the sacrifice we make when we volunteer long hours, the sacrifice we make when we give even when it's the hardest thing to do.
We just reenacted an account of the most difficult sacrifice—one which we will reenact again on this altar in just a few minutes. If you want to know the true nature of love, the true measure of complete self giving, then you only have to look right up there (pointing to crucifix).
That is what the word love means.
That is what love is. The rest is commentary.