Rise Up To Real Love

“Love is love,” I see them post on their Instagram captions, and I always ask myself: “Haven’t these people ever played CatchPhrase?” If you’re not familiar with CatchPhrase, it is a great game for long car rides. The gist of the game is that you have to describe a CatchPhrase without using any of the words in it. For example, if my catchphrase were “Baseball Field,” I could not say “A field where you play baseball.” Seems obvious, right? So, why do so many people insist on defining love with the word love? You can’t properly describe a word with itself. So, what is love? What is the definition of love?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: This girl’s a cynic. She wants to take all the fun out of love. On the contrary, I looooooove love. My 2nd favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day. My first is Thanksgiving, but that’s a different blogpost. Most of my friends make fun of me for how much I love love. Don’t believe me? I spent a semester of college studying abroad in Rome, and while there, two of my classmates fell in love with each other. I loved their love so much, I started an Instagram account for it! I’m not kidding. You should follow it; it’ll make your heart happy. What’s more, is that about a month before Valentine’s Day, I start crafting homemade valentines for all my favorite people. Each one is handmade and unique from the others. The week leading up to February 14th I wear all red outfits. When the big day comes, I call myself the “Valentine Fairy,” and as I hand out candy, I remind people that they are loved by me and by God.

God. Let’s start there. The first thing you have to know about love is that God is love. Sometimes when people are feeling gushy they say something like: “Love is indescribable! It’s beyond our understanding!” They’re not totally wrong. Because God is love, and we are not God, there are aspects of it that we might not understand. However, just because something is bigger and more powerful than us does not mean we’re unable to participate in it. Take for example, God’s mercy. I’d be lying if I told you I fully understood the mercy of God. I, as a human, am not capable of forgiving as easily as He does, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Just as we are invited to participate in His mercy, we are also invited to share in His love. His love is known as “agape,” which is the Greek word for unconditional, sacrificial love.

Now, if His love is sacrificial, and we’re trying to participate in it, that means we have to be willing to sacrifice for the ones we love [Cue Bruno Mars’ Grenade]. Although it’s unlikely that we’ll be called to physically die for someone the way Christ did for us, we do have numerous opportunities to die to ourselves. Dying to self means dying to our pride and our earthly desires. It wasn’t until Christ died that He could rise to new life. And that’s what love is all about - rising. It’s about rising above human temptations into divine aspirations. Rising beyond our previous efforts into capabilities that we weren’t even aware we had. If you’ve ever seen somebody do something crazy for someone they love - a mother protecting her child  or a man who put together the most epic marriage proposal - then you know this to be true: Love allows you to do things you never thought you could. It allows you to rise.

Ironically, the act of rising often requires lowering. In fact, St. Augustine said: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.” You see, it’s when we lower our pride that we grow in holiness. In fact, rising spiritually often presents as lowering physically. Think about it: our greatest displays of love for our Father happen when we fall to our knees. At Mass we bow and genuflect exteriorly so that we may leap and soar interiorly. Now, obviously, you’re not going to fall to your knees and worship your best friend or significant other, but take this as one example of lowering yourself: At college, my roommate and I share a bathroom, and I clean it every week. I lower to my knees to scrub the tub and toilet, and wipe the floor. It’s uncomfortable and nasty, but it’s a small act of service through which I show her that I appreciate and love her. She does the same for me when she vacuums and sweeps the living room, because she knows I hate doing that. When we lower ourselves to clean for each other, it’s almost like a sacramental act of love. Sacraments are things that signify God’s grace in a way that is outwardly observable. No, cleaning a bathroom is not one of the Seven Sacraments (and thank God for that), but I can use this chore as a way to signify God’s grace working through me to perform an act of service that is outwardly observable to my roommate. It’s pretty cool, right? Who knew cleaning a bathroom could be so sacred? Oh, looks like the Catechism knew (CCC 533).

Anyway, the point of this anecdote is this: “outwardly observable” means it exists in the physical world, not just in our hearts. You see, as Catholics, we take bodies seriously. We know that our physical reality is a reflection of our spiritual reality. That’s why Mass is so sensory-oriented. Think about it - we smell the incense, we taste the bread and wine. Moreover, we use our knees to genuflect and our hands to make the sign of the cross. We as Catholics use our bodies in acts of worship because like Christ, we have a body and a soul. We are images of His love, and we can use our bodies to express love to others, like how I use my body to clean the bathroom is a way of expressing love to my roommate.

However, when using our bodies to radiate Christ’s love to someone else, it’s super-duper important that we know and remember the definition of love. You haven’t forgotten that’s what we set out to do today, right? I mentioned earlier that God is love, but there’s more to it than that. Beyond the cliche wall decorations you might see at Target, love actually has a concrete definition: Love is to will the good of another (CCC 1766). This means that if you love someone, you want what is best for that person. “Love does not seek its own interests” (1 Corinthians 13:5). This takes us back to rising. We have to rise beyond our selfish desires when seeking to love others. We have to rise beyond using each other for pleasure or utility. We have to rise by making sacrifices for the people that we love, and doing so joyfully, not begrudgingly. Okay, I know those last few sentences were a bit abstract, so here are some concrete tidbits to help us rise up to real love:

1. Love is not a snapstreak.

If you really want to show someone you love them, spend quality time with them. Participate in recreation or activities that are meaningful to that person.

2. People are not "things".

If you are romantically involved with another person, please do not refer to it as having a “thing” with him/her. “Things” are convenient, undignified, and temporary; people are not.

3. Love is not a feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, there are feelings associated with falling in love. I’ve felt them before, and they’re great! But do not confuse feelings with truth. Love is a decision. Take for example my parents: They’ve been married almost 30 years, and you can bet there have been numerous times in which they didn’t have those gushy, happy feelings for each other. Sometimes they get upset with each other, but does that mean that they no longer love each other? No, because love is not a feeling. They decided a long time ago to love each other - to will each other’s good - even when they don’t “feel” like it.

So what do we do with all this? This Valentine’s Day, I want you to know that you are loved. You are loved more than you know by someone who died - and rose - out of love for you. His love invites us also to rise and to spread real love to everyone we encounter, not only on this love-filled holiday, but always.

- Mary Kate Van Wagner, Camp Gray Staffer and Love Begins Here Core Team

If you're a parent, youth minister, teacher or other adult invested in the lives of HS teens, we'd love for you to check out Doug's Valentine's Day reflection written just for you!