Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Hymn to Love

Read I Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13

This hymn to love is without doubt one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. It brings to mind Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus caritas est (God is love).

In this letter addressed to all the members of the Church, the Pope reminds us that the Greeks had many expressions to speak of the reality we translate with the one word “love.” They used storge to speak of the affection that grows out of familiarity. A good example would be the love between family members. They used philia to designate the special relationship between good friends. They would say eros to point to the kind of passionate love which is expressed in sexual language. They reserved agape for self-giving, even self-sacrificing love.

In his encyclical, the Pope seeks to understand the difference and relationship between eros and agape, a question that should interest all of us. Indeed, our society seems to have made of eros, passionate love, a kind of idol. According to popular movies, music and novels, life finds its value in this kind of whirl-wind of feelings where reason is abandoned, sensuality reigns and morality is absent. In that world-view, the only thing that really matters is powerful emotion, sensual pleasure and possession of the loved one.

The Pope helps us understand that this kind of love, though it is very human, can also be dehumanizing. It reduces people to one single dimension, it makes of others a kind of screen onto which we project our desires. It reduces us to our emotions, fleeting and unstable as they are. We become slaves to our urges and whims.

Only through the conversion and enrichment of eros by means of agape can we truly become human. When passion is transformed into gift, when desire becomes sacrifice, when the love of another takes priority over self-love, then love can be not only a human experience, but a humanizing one.

In this passage of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul celebrates the agape-love that should exist among the members of a Christian community, for it is a reflection of the love that God has for all of us, a love that took flesh in the person of Jesus-Christ.

Let us therefore read this hymn over and over, let us meditate on it, let us seek to embody it in our relationships with the people who surround us. We will grow in our humanity. We will become more like God.