That one little word in English, what problems its flatness in our language causes! when the young man says it to the young woman, we think of eros – we think that embedded in it is a passion and a lust which, properly channelled through the marriage bed can become the source of new life; but it can, we hope, through the mutual self-giving in marriage, provide not only a secure place in which to bring up children, but also an arena of self-sacrificial self-giving in which, by acknowledging the needs of the other, we can grow in generosity and grace – the give and take of everyday life can, by this, be transformed into a school in which we learn what it means to be truly human, not by accumulating things to ourselves, but by sharing them with the other.
The love of the body can, we hope, lead also to the love of the soul – that which the Greeks called phileos, but this love is one which does not require marriage. We saw it in Gareth Thomas’ wonderful series on St Clare and Agnes of Prague; the spiritual bond between them was deep – so deep it developed into that highest form of love – agape – that love which God has for us, which places at its centre the needs of the other and not our own. That requires much from fallen human beings, but it is the supreme example Christ shows us on the Cross on Calvary.
We live in a world which confuses love and lust, and which is pervaded with sexualised images of the body. We have, we are told, the right to love whom we will, and the implication is always that without it being sexualised, we are missing out on something. Christians seem as liable to this mistake as secularists, and one but seldom hears the story of those Christians with same-sex attraction of who do not act on eros – even though they are there. It is easy to see why – orthodox Christians often feel distrustful of the very idea of same-sex attraction, and those in the LGBTI community who make a cause if it, are puzzled by those who will not act on it. But it is perfectly possible to have very deep friendships with those of one’s own gender without leaping into bed with them – indeed, it is perfectly possible to share a bed with a friend of the same gender without it having any sexual content – I did so last week end with a friend on a visit to London!
Love takes on many forms, but it is always at its best when it fashions itself on the pattern God shows us of his love for us – selfless, directed at others and not ourself. Parental love at its best is a good example to us all, and those of us who had a parent, or parents who modelled this for us when we were children, gave us a gift of inestimable value. Friendship, too, is a great gift which offers us chances for self-sacrifice, and one of things our society is in danger of losing is that valuable dimension to the human condition.
From Our Lady’s loving submission to the will of God, through to the self-sacrificial paternal love of St Joseph, and onwards, we are presented in Scripture with many examples of love. It was God’s love which led to the Incarnation, Mary’s love which realised it, and Christ’s love which led him to Calvary. He loved us though we were far off – and that calls forth from us love for Him – and, at its best, as we saw in the letters of St Clare and Agnes of Prague – love for each other. In love we are redeemed – and without Christian love, there is no wholeness.