Today is February 14, which you know as Valentine's Day. Perhaps it is not known that St. Valentine was a martyr, living in Rome in the 3rd Century. For many centuries, his feast day of February 14 was on the universal liturgical calendar, but now, his liturgical celebration is left to local custom. This day is associated with love. As I've probably mentioned before, we use the word “love” ubiquitously and in almost every situation, but in ancient Greek, there were four different words for “love”: eros (ερος), filia (φιλια), storge (στοργη), and agape (αγαπη).
Eros refers to romantic desire—we see how it is basis for our English word of “erotic.” Filia is “brotherly love” or the love of friendship (as an aside, the city of Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love because the word Philadelphia is the combination of the two Greek words meaning “city of brotherly love”). Storge is a love within families, particularly the reverence children have for their parents. Agape is a sacrificial love, which seeks nothing in return. All of these loves are good and have their place, but there is a hierarchy, with agape being the highest form of love, and the other forms of love working their way up to agape.
In Latin, agape was translated to caritas, from which we have the word “charity.” In Sacred Scripture, particularly the New Testament, agape is almost exclusively the only word used for love. In John 3:16, we read that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son; the word used for love is agape. In the First Letter of St. John, we read that God is love, and again, the word used for love is agape, charity. God is selfless, sacrificial love.
As we reflect upon love and the fact that Jesus commands us to love (agape) God and our neighbors and to love (agape) our enemies, it's important to remember that love is far more than a feeling. St. Thomas Aquinas defines love/agape/charity as “willing the good of another.” It is doing what is best for another. Because God is love, God is always at work, doing what is best for us. This is different from a common understanding of love: “if you love me, you'll give me what I want.” Any parent knows that isn't love—that's indulgence. Any parent knows that doing what is best for their children is not always what their children want...and that their children may express their displeasure at their parents.
God knows us better than we know ourselves, and God knows what is best for us. God is always at work for our salvation, leading us to living fully in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this means God is not going to give us what we want; God isn't always going to indulge us. This calls us to trust that God is our Father who loves us and is doing what is best for us. For us, we are called with the same love, seeking to do what is best for others, without seeking for some reward.
We are saints under construction, loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving our enemies. Have a great week!