The word love and its derivatives appear 816 times in the Revised Standard Version of Sacred Scripture. But how many of us really know what love is? Like most people, I lived much of my life believing that love is a feeling. The first kind of love I ever “felt” was the love I have for my mother. Ever since I can remember, my mom was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I was enamored with her, and my love for her was fueled by her beauty and all that she gave me, food, comfort, laughter, and a shoulder to cry on. However, there were moments when I definitely didn’t feel like loving her, like when I was punished or disciplined. In fact, if love was simply a feeling, then there were many moments and times over the last 23 years that I did not love my mother.
The second type of love I experienced perhaps really is no different, and that was the love of being around another girl. That feeling that this person is terrific and I love spending time with them, and I love how smart they are, and how pretty they are, and how they make my insides turn into mush. But again, the feeling would always fade, or it would wax and wane over time.
There is no doubt that the majority of Americans believe that this is love. Its evident in the number of divorces in our country, and in the shocking amount of adultery that exists. Love is a feeling and when that feeling goes away, we do not love the person, the love has gone dry.
Often I have equated my love for God as a feeling. Its a feeling of gratitude, its a feeling of thankfulness for what he has accomplished for me through Jesus Christ. But feelings are not love, and they are not enough to fuel obedience to God and his laws. Feelings change constantly. I learned this both in biology and in spiritual direction. Our feelings come from deep within, in our heart and soul. These things are influenced by many things, by our thoughts, by the actions of others, by the physical environment we are in, from the colors we see, to the settings of light, to the temperature and the weather around us. All of these things play on our feelings.
If love is a feeling, its extremely fickle.
But love isn’t a feeling. Its an action, its a choice. Do you think that when Jesus was being beaten, when his skin was being shredded by the cruel torture of the Romans that he felt like sacrificing himself? Do you think that as he was weak from loss of blood and dragging a heavy and rough wooden cross to the top of a hill that his feelings were aflutter? Do you think as he suffocated on the cross his emotions were what kept him there out of love? No. It was a constant and continual choice he made. He chose to love us, to make sacrifice even when his emotions said “no”. When it was hard and painful, when his body most likely desired to sleep, when his memories probably went back to his childhood, of resting in the arms of Our Lady, he saw your face and my face, and he chose to rise above his human weakness and die for us.
Love is action. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15. We often say that our good works are a natural outflow of our love. But I would disagree, I would say our good works are our love. When we obey God we love him, we do what’s best for the relationship, even if we don’t want to. When we disobey God we love ourselves. We attempt to save our own lives. But Jesus says that he who loves his own life and tries to save it will ultimately lose it.
The point is that good works and love are indistinguishable. Semantics, slights of hands, tricky wording aside, we cannot have one without the other. We cannot be pleasing to God if we don’t love him, if we don’t do good. We must do good works in order to be saved, not because we are meriting salvation, but because Jesus won for us that grace. He made us a new creation, capable of loving God, of obeying his commands. We do because we love and we love because we do. It’s the Christian way, its the Catholic way, its Jesus’ way.