"From the beginning, God contrived ten thousand ways for implanting love within us"
St. John Chrysostom , Homilies on I Corinthians 13
Over the next few weeks, I and the staff of Camp Maccabee will be focusing on the theological virtue of love. We focus on the virtues, both theological and cardinal, every year. One year of the cycle, though, we focus exclusively on love. Why?
We focus on love because there are fewer words so horribly misunderstood and misused as is the word love. We use the word, in our culture, to denote a feeling about many things. We use the word to express our like or affection for everything from a food to a sports team to a pet to a human being. We use the word to express an affection for persons, places, concepts, and things. We leave it to the context to see if we mean something different by 'love' depending about whom or what we are speaking.
Let's be honest though. More often than not, we are speaking of our affection for what something or someone offers us; how they make us feel. This is a love that is mere emotion; a response to an outside stimulus. For as long as what is stimulating that feeling makes us happy, we keep it around. When that stimulus either ceases to make me happy or causes me pain, we dismiss it. It is why people run hot and then run cold in their affection for something. We fall in and out of love with things and people. Because it is an emotion based love, it is fickle by its nature.
Love, within the context of our faith, is an entirely different thing. It transcends the emotions and settles in our will. Love is a deliberate choice, a discipline, and a virtue. Its directionality is wholly different from the world. Where in this world the focus of love is what is done for me, in faith the focus is away from the self and towards another. This is what the Greeks refer to as 'agape' or divine love. The love God is has is not directed at what we can do for Him. Why? Because there is nothing that we can give Him that He does not already does not have. We can add nothing to Him. However, because God's love is directed towards us it demands an in kind response.
This in kind love is difficult because it requires a heroic selflessness. This kind of love, because it is a virtue, puts the beloved first. It seeks the good of the beloved even if in doing so , sacrifice and suffering are involved. Jesus tells us, "No greater love has one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) To give the full measure of oneself is the kind of love Jesus Himself has and expects of His followers. It is no surprise, then, that St. Paul, when giving us the attributes of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7, paints the picture a thoroughly selfless and heroic love. These attributes become the watermarks by which we can determine my love for God and for others. This goes back, again, to the fact that love is not an act of the emotions, but an act of the will. It is choice made hundreds of times a day to move us to greater perfection as one who loves.
We focus on this in our camp because each one of the young men is called by God to a vocation. Most will be called to marriage. Some will be called to the priesthood or religious life. All possess the same base. A man that cannot love will fail at his vocation if he finds it at all. What we hope to instill is an understanding that here and now they must cultivate love as they search God's will.
A man who cannot love will be an awful spouse and dad. Even in courtship, he will see his girlfriend as a means to his own happiness. Insofar as she keeps making him happy, she is useful to keep around. This kind of selfishness will inevitably lead to sex outside of marriage, as the girlfriend owes him sexual pleasure without the benefit of the stability of marriage. A man with imperfect love will also train his brain to this using of women through pornography. I cannot understate the cancerous danger of pornography to warping a man's ability to fully love. Furthermore, a man who does not properly love his spouse will not properly love his children. Children will becomes accessories to make him look good. More dangerous still, a man who will not properly love teaches his sons to do the same and his daughters to not expect it. It becomes a multi-generational cancer.
A man who cannot love will be an awful priest. Even in the seminary, he will judge the worth of serving God and His people by what he personally stands to gain. The idea of service will be warped beyond recognition into being a purveyor of goods and service to be given at an exacting price. His prayer life, if it exists at all, will be functionary. His homilies will always give him away though. Homilies are a window into the preacher's soul. His treatment of those placed in his care will resemble a dad who is faithless to his spouse and sees his children as useful only when they perform whatever duties he deems they should. The abuse and neglect that are seen in a loveless spouse and dad will manifest itself in a loveless priest or cleric as well.
Because God and Holy Mother Church want better for our families and parishes, we teach the conscious discipline of love. We teach it as the virtue it is. We do not reduce it to a mere emotion. Without the nobility and true heroism of love, we will continue to see the unraveling of the family unit and the plunging of priestly vocations.
Because love is a theological virtue, it requires the grace of God to grow. On our camp, we keep focused on the ultimate act of love: The Eucharist. If a man is to be truly a man of love, then his eyes must be set on the very model of that love. He must be a man unashamed of prayer. He must be a man who sees in Christ the kind of selfless and courageous hero he himself is called to be. We know from studies that when the dad is disengaged from faith, the likelihood of his children pursuing the faith is infinitesimally small. We know that parishes rise and fall on the pastoral care afforded by their priests. We know the lasting damage either spouses/dads and priests can do for generations. We also know the heroic virtue they can instill for generations as well.
We need men to rise up beyond the shallowness of the emotion of love and grasp the greatness of the virtue of love. We know that everything we bemoan in our society can be turned around, albeit with difficulty, but it can be turned around. To be sure the culture will fight this as the culture has gone full throttle in emasculating men and keeping them on the level of a boy. A man who truly loves is a force of nature that cannot be stilled by political correctness or cultural whims. These are the giants we need to raise. We need men who will not merely be good husbands, dads, or priests; we need stellar and courageous men who will fill these vocational roles given to them by God.