by Roy Peachey

We can get carried away with thinking about all the unfamiliar words associated with the Catholic faith and forget that the really important words may be very familiar indeed. Words like “love”. In his first letter, St John wrote that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” This really is the heart of the Christian faith. God is not an impersonal being somewhere far away. He is love. And if we live in love we live in God. Even more remarkably, God lives in us.

And the love that is spoken about in the Bible is not a limited, half-hearted type of love but a full-blooded love that breaks through every sort of weakness and sin. As St Paul put it in his letter to the Romans, “I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The ultimate expression of this love is to be found in the death of Jesus on the cross. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” as St Paul wrote in the same letter. Or, to return to St John, we find right at the start of his Gospel that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Love is right at the centre of the Catholic faith. God loves us. Loves us so much, in fact, that he gave his only Son, his very self. What follows from this is that we should love God, which is the message Moses gives the people of Israel in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.” This is such a familiar quotation that we can skate over just how amazing it is. What God wants of his people is not for them to offer lots of sacrifices or to quake before him, but to love him and to love him with everything they’ve got.

But what does loving God mean? Part of the answer to that question is given in the Book of Leviticus where the people of Israel were told: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Loving God necessarily leads us onto loving other people, as Jesus himself pointed out when a scribe asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Rather than give him just one commandment, Jesus told him that loving your neighbour as yourself and loving God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength was what really mattered: “There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Another way of thinking about love is to look at the word itself. Or the words themselves. C. S. Lewis once wrote a book called The Four Loves in which he looked at four different words in Greek that are all translated as “love” in English: storge (which could also be translated as “affection”); philia (“friendship”); eros (“sexual love”); and agape. Of all these words, agape is the hardest to translate. The Latin equivalent is caritas, so the translation we often see is “charity”. Unfortunately, “charity” now has other connotations in English. We tend to understand the word in a very limited sense as simply giving money to people in need.

A better way of thinking about agape is given by St Paul. In the famous passage on love in his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul explains that love really is expressed in action: “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.” That is what agape is and that is why, according to St Paul, “faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Agape is the most commonly used word for love in the New Testament but it is not the only one. Eros is also an important in the Bible. In fact, the very opening of the Bible teaches us a great deal about this type of love. It is only after the creation of Eve that Adam is able to say, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” It is only when Adam and Eve come together that they are complete. As Benedict XVI wrote, “eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who ‘abandons his mother and father’ in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become ‘one flesh’.” Eros finds its fulfilment in marriage. What is even more remarkable is that the marriage bond tells us something fundamental about God’s way of relating to us: God loves his people – his Church – like a bridegroom loves his bride. It is through this love of God for us that we become the people we were truly meant to be.

The Creed

The Sacraments



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