Love is the beginning to the existence of everything, for God, who is love, is the source of our being, and it is for God that our hearts long. On our journey through time and space, we live by faith in hope for the life to come, which is a life in love. When we, who have lived in love here on earth, arrive home, we will come to rest in God, the love we have searched for our entire lives. 

As St. Augustine says in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”

But what is love, at least the love that Augustine, and I would venture to say, everyone is really pining for? It is not hard to look around and see that many find themselves exhausted, battered, wounded, broken and abandoned by a culture that has immersed itself in the lie of satiating the flesh and the god of self. Many have bought the lie that in pursuing one more pleasure they will find love. Many people have also bought the lie that if they can “create” themselves into an image and likeness of themselves they will be happy. If that were true, then why are so many anxious, sad, depressed, despondent and despairing?  

We’ve tasted, feasted and drunk from the table of this world, expecting to be satisfied only to find hunger, thirst and emptiness. In our insanity, we keep going back again and again expecting to be filled, yet always finding nothing. Precisely because love is what our hearts desire most, the absence of it, no matter how much we fill it with temporal pleasures, leaves us empty. So we don’t chase after the emptiness, we must be able to distinguish between the love for which we are restless and the false love of this world.

In the original Greek of Scripture, love is expressed in three ways, each having a different meaning. Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love” literally comes from philia and adelphous meaning male relative. So philial love is that which exists between brothers who share love and affection. Not exactly a passionate love that’s going to set the world on fire, but it has its place between friends, and is a grounding faithful affection.

Love can be expressed as eros from which we get the word erotic. This is particularly used to describe marital intimacy and passion. The Song of Songs is an erotic poem of how the beloved searches for her lover and the lover longs for his beloved. This theme gives us part of the spousal meaning of the covenant in which God weds himself to his people. In the context of man and woman, this eros is so powerful, not only does it participate in the generation of another person, it is the sign of the Blessed Trinity. It is no coincidence that Jesus’ sacrifice is referred to as his passion. Eros is a beautiful thing in this context, but unfortunately, its meaning has been twisted to the pagan connotation of sexual perversity and pornography.

The virtue of love is found in agape, love that is self sacrificial for the good of the other. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) commands husbands to love their wives as Jesus loves his bride, the Church. The word Paul uses in this letter for love is agapatae which is the present active imperative from the root verb agapao. The imperative form of the verb is a command; to do something. By equating it with how Christ loved the Church, by laying down his life for her, husbands are called to lay down their lives for their wives. Most often this involves putting his own ego and disordered propensity to pleasure, sloth and comfort behind the needs of his wife.

Paul goes on: “wives be subject to your husbands out of reverence for Christ.” Be subject to, is not a command for the wives, but rather a description. In the original, it is more accurately translated; “be subject to your own,” from the Greek idios, which means pertaining to one’s self.  It is not the same word used in Luke 10:17 when the Apostles report back to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject (hypοtasso) to us in your name!” These are two completely different words, parts of speech with two completely different meanings.

The language in the original Greek text literally means that wives are to be their husbands body.  This should immediately bring to mind Genesis 2:24, “and they become one flesh.” And Paul in Ephesians, “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does his Church, because the wife is a member of his body” (Eph. 5:29). When the wife chooses to make herself one with her husband it is an act of her own free will. When Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees and Sadducees about divorce, quoting Genesis, he says, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mk. 10:8-9) 

After the resurrection, Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon Peter, do you love (agape) me?” Peter answers, “Lord you know I love (philio) you.” In this exchange between the Lord and Peter, we see the importance of making a distinction among the various words for love. Peter, aware of his failure at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, in contrast to his pronouncement that he would be willing to go to prison or even die for Jesus, is unwilling to make such a bold statement that he could love in the way that Jesus loves. Peter instead, in humility, acknowledges his human weakness.  

Jesus, who demonstrates humility by descending from his eternal throne in heaven and becoming man, displays agape. He did such a thing for our good. There was no self interest. Agape is why he prayed while being scourged and nailed to a cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Agape is how he could forgive, not only his friends who ran away, but also pray to the Father to forgive those who plotted and killed him. 

Peter knows agape is too much for him. He is aware of his failure and responds to Jesus in a good, but lesser than asked for love. The third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Simon Peter do you philio me?” Peter responds, “Lord you know everything, you know that I philio you.” Again, we see Jesus condescending to the level of the one he is calling, accepts the gift that he can supply, blesses it, multiplies it, and transforms it to agape as Peter follows Jesus to the cross and gives his life in Rome.

True love, the love that the world is desperately searching for, is found only in and through Jesus Christ. Without Christ we may be hard pressed to get beyond philio, which is good, but is not enough to fulfill the desires of our heart. Made in God’s image and likeness, our desire for love is far greater than our capacity to love.  

Perhaps this is why Augustine wrote, “Belatedly have I loved thee, a love so ancient and so new.  Belatedly have I loved thee who has cried out and forced open my deafness, that has shined and chased away my blindness, that has breathed fragrant aromas that has breathed in my breath, and now I pant for thee. I tasted and now I hunger and thirst. Thou hast touched me and now I burn for thy peace.”  

We go to the source of living waters in the divine liturgy to quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger for it is Christ himself we receive and who satisfies us. In receiving Christ, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal.2:20). If it is Christ who lives in me, it is love that lives in faith and hope. In the end, only love remains because Love is our beginning and is our end.

By Robert L. Judge

Robert L. Judge earned his MA in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in December 2020. He completed his undergraduate degree in secondary science education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Robert also studied curriculum and Instruction and gifted education at the University of New Orleans and ULL. A native of New Orleans, LA, Robert now resides with his bride of 33 years in Lafayette, LA. He and his wife, Annette, are the parents of five children and the grandparents of five. He serves as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister and lector at Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church and Student Center, and as a Eucharistic minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Robert is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor society and a Knight of Columbus, 3rd Degree.