15 April 2015

"Thou shalt love..."

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Those are words we hear at the beginning of the Mass according to the Anglican Use. "Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith..." and then our Lord Jesus makes it clear to us: we cannot claim to love God if we don't love our neighbor. On these two commandments -- the love of God and the love of the neighbor -- the entire Law and the Prophets hang. They’re like twin hooks that hold up the entire Law of God. So Jesus teaches that the entire law of God can be boiled down to two simple commandments. Love God with your whole being. Love those whom God puts in your path as much as you love yourself.

Jesus distilled the Law down to one word: Love. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: "He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law…” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

People often misunderstand what love is. They think it's a particular feeling, something you “fall into.” But Jesus teaches us that love isn’t just a feeling. Love is an orientation of the will in action toward another. To love God and to love our neighbor doesn’t necessarily mean that we have particular feelings about God or our neighbor. That's not to say that love doesn't have feelings associated with it. Certainly, it does. But love itself -- in its essence -- is not a feeling.

In my Anglican days I was a curate serving with a wise rector.  He always asked couples when they came to him for marriage preparation why they wanted to get married. Almost invariably they would say something like, "Because we love each other." And his response would be, "That's nice. Now come up with a good reason why you want to get married."

It’s important for us to understand that love doesn't define or shape marriage. Rather, marriage defines and shapes love. It’s an orientation between husband and wife because they are husband and wife. The same could also be applied in the other direction, when couples want to end their marriage because they “don't love each other any more.” What should be said to them is, “That’s not good enough. Come up with a real reason for going your separate ways."

Popular culture and Hollywood notwithstanding, love isn't something that you “fall into.” We fall into holes and off cliffs. We don’t fall into love. It's a curious expression, "to fall in love." Falling means we’ve lost our balance, we’ve lost our control. When we fall we’re having an “out of control” experience.

That doesn’t describe love. Instead of a “falling” experience, love is really a deliberate act of the will. To love means deliberately to turn ourselves toward another, to give away something of ourselves to someone else without any regard for what we might get in return. The Scriptures describe love in self-sacrificing terms: "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

To love is to be turned inside out, toward someone outside of yourself -- toward God, toward your neighbor. That’s not a “falling” experience. Instead, it’s something that raises us up to a higher and holier level.