By Jonathan Stodola, St. Louis University
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it is helpful to reflect on what love truly is and, subsequently, who God truly is.
St. Paul famously defines love in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (13:4-8). In the first Epistle of John we hear that “God is love” (4:8). For St. Augustine of Hippo, there is only one love, and that love is God. These traits are reassuring because we all are sinners, constantly turning away from the God who loves us. Yet love heals all wounds and forgives all sin, as God heals us through His unbounded love.
Since there is only one God, and God is love, there is only one true highest form of love. Augustine makes it clear that there is not a distinct “divine” love and a “human” love, but rather one central love that comes from God. This love has two components: benevolence and union. A lover wants the best for his/her beloved and wants to be one with them. God wants the best for humanity and loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son as to be in union with us. Pure love includes a desire for the other’s betterment and a longing to know who that person is. As we love those in our lives, we should follow the example of the God, who is love, and give of ourselves to those around us.
“God is love,” there is no greater line in scripture. In his seventh Homily on the First Epistle of John, Augustine says, “if nothing at all were said in the other pages of the scriptures…we would not have to look for anything else.” (7:4). We have all experienced love in one form or another. Love of a parent, sibling, best friend, significant other, a warm sunny day, or perhaps just a smile from a passing stranger. We know what it is like to love, so what better way to explain God than as love. It is beautiful to think about.
For Augustine, in order for us to love, we must do two things. We must confess everything to God and love what God loves. The ultimate love and union here on earth is that of Holy Matrimony. In marriage, the husband and wife share their whole being with each other; the good, bad, and everything in-between. They love each other, share their passions and weaknesses, and in doing so, they become one.
To fulfill the greatest commandment of loving God, we must bring all we are before God and love His people. Augustine believed the ultimate goal of life is union with God: an eternal marriage with God. Thus, we must share our whole being with the God who formed us in His image and likeness, and we must love others as God does. We cannot love God without loving the people He loves, nor can we love people without first loving God. We must embrace God as the lover and beloved.
I’d like to offer one final quote from St. Augustine to ponder, “Love, and do what you want.” Nothing but good can come forth from the root of love. Therefore, when we love God and those around us, we cannot commit any harm when our actions are out of love. This is because love wants two things: the best for the beloved and union with them.
Now back to our original question: is chocolate love? Not quite. Love is God, and from that love comes all good things. We can only love when we share ourselves wholly with another. So instead of sharing chocolate this year, share yourself. Give yourself fully in love to God and those special people in your life, and watch the fruits that stem from this authentic love blossom.