What is love?

In today’s society, the word love is so misused or overused, we’ve lost its true meaning.  Too many times we use it to describe a movie or a favorite food or a favorite song or a pair of shoes, and then use it to describe how we feel about God and the Church. I can say, “I love my car” and “I love Jesus.” Are they the same kind of love? Obviously not.

1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. Great, but what does that mean? If we’ve lost the true meaning of love, saying “God is love” is meaningless. I’ve been meditating quite a bit lately on the meaning of love. As I sit Friday afternoons in adoration, I’ve been asking God what love is. Here’s what I’ve gotten in prayer: God is love and sent his Son, Jesus, to show us exactly what that means. Meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, we get a glimpse of that love.

Check it out. We’ve been told that God is perfect love. In the beginning he was in heaven in perfect love as the Trinity. The Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—did not need anything else to love any more or any less. But God wanted to share that love, and so began the creation story.

Genesis 1 tells us that God made man in his image and likeness. Awesome—what does that mean? That means he created us out of and for love. Think about that: we are created out of God and for God, in his image to love and receive love. But since we humans couldn’t figure out what love is, God sent Jesus to show us, and we have the great honor of meditating on it, especially during the mysteries of the rosary.

Love is a free, total, faithful, fruitful gift of oneself to the beloved. Take the sorrowful mysteries for example, by decade: the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the carrying the cross, the crucifixion and death. One may ask, how do torture and death equal love?

The agony in the garden: Jesus went into the garden to pray. He knew his time was near. I imagine that, as he was praying, he was having visions of each and every one of us. He saw our sin and the results of that sin and begged, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus knew the choices we were going to make, but he never said, “Nah, forget that one, he’ll never amount to anything.” He loved us so much that he was freely willing to die for us, his beloved.

The scourging at the pillar: If you’ve ever watched the movie The Passion of the Christ, you’ve had a glimpse of the cruelty of the scourging. Each time Jesus was whipped with the leather strap that had glass and stones tied to the tips, he was standing in our place and suffering in our place for our sins. When I’m praying this mystery, all I can say is, “Thank you, for taking each of those stripes out of love for me and the purity you desire for me.” Our sins of the flesh—sex outside of marriage, masturbation, pornography, etc.—are sins against our own bodies. Our bodies were made to be loved, not used. Knowing he took those lashings out of total love for us, we should honor our bodies and be grateful for the gift of them.

The crowning with thorns: Mocked, beaten, and spat upon for love of us, he was scourged within inches of his life, then he was mocked when they put a robe on his open wounds and placed a crown of thorns on his head. I think of the many times I have mocked others for their faith. When I was in middle school, there was a girl named Erika. She was always so darn happy, and I hated it. She would walk around with her Bible every day, and I would make fun of her. I think about her often while praying the rosary, because I was like those soldiers mocking Jesus. I feel terrible for the ways I treated her both verbally and in my thoughts. Jesus was willing to be mocked out of love for us, to show us how to be loving when someone is putting us down. Instead of getting hotheaded and saying hurtful things in retaliation, he showed us it is better to be pure and humble, allowing God’s will be done. God is the only judge.

The carrying of the cross: This decade really hits home in my heart. There are a few key things Jesus showed us while carrying his cross. One is that we are going to trip and fall while carrying our cross. We are human and therefore weak to temptation. When we fall, we have two choices: stay on the ground with the weight of the world on our shoulders; or do as Jesus did—get up and keep going, knowing full well it’s not going to be easy and yet keeping our eye on the prize: the heavenly banquet.

Another thing he taught us is that you never have to do it alone. God created us to be in relationship with others, not to be isolated and hidden from the world. We will all have times in our lives when we feel we alone, doomed to figure it out all by ourselves. But that is nowhere near truth. Sirach 6:14-16 shares the truth so perfectly: “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them.” God is omnipresent, which means he is always with us. He never leaves us, no matter how far we’ve fallen. Out of love for us, he is constantly waiting to be our sturdy shelter from whom we can draw strength in the difficult times. God is faithful, even when we are not.

The crucifixion and death of our Lord: After all he’d been through in his Passion, Jesus was not done; he had one final act of love to show us. He allowed himself to be nailed to the cross, hoisted up for all to see his nakedness and final suffering. Again, on the cross he was mocked, and through it all he was loving. Out of love for us, Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished,” and he breathed his last. With that he conquered sin and showed us what love is: a free, total, faithful, fruitful gift of oneself to the beloved.

At any point in Jesus’ Passion he could have given up, but he never did. He chose to freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully give his complete self to redeem each of us.

So what is love? Love is an authentic gift of oneself for the good of another. It is standing up for the lost, the naked and the poor. It is being a strong shelter and a faithful friend. It is getting up when we’ve fallen. It is keeping our eyes on what is good, true, and holy. It is knowing that we are worth more than treasures, that Christ came for each of us individually and wants to have a relationship with us. It is allowing Christ and others to know us intimately. It is redemptive.

If the way you’re living is not bringing you closer to Christ, then you’re not practicing love. It is quite possibly the opposite of love, and that is use.

I encourage you to take time to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary and ask God to show you what love is and how it is intended to be shared.

And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:9-11).

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Mandy Erskine is an international Catholic speaker and inspirational storyteller. She has been speaking and sharing her Catholic faith and passion for Chastity for over 10 years. Her focus is restoring our human dignity through sharing the truth about God, who created us to be male and female in his image and likeness. She has been described as inspiring, refreshing, funny, and life-changing. 

For more information or to book Mandy to speak at your event visit www.mandyerskine.com or www.facebook.com/chastebyhisgrace