Now is the time to reconsider the meaning of love

What is your earliest memory? I still argue with my siblings that I have a clear memory going back well over 55 years of my then, two chubby legs…

What is your earliest memory?

I still argue with my siblings that I have a clear memory going back well over 55 years of my then, two chubby legs being lifted skyward.

Obviously, to me at least, my mother had me in hand dealing with the onerous task of wiping my bum and putting on a clean, dry diaper.

She made it a loving act by her affection and I reciprocated, at that age, by my attachment to her.

This memory leaves me open to a quick snipe or two from my odd brother or sister.  How old was I, anyway, when I was finally toilet trained? Five?

Fortunately my mother still can resolve any threatening sibling spat, at least in that area, by affirming all of our more or less normal performance in ridding ourselves, and her, of our diapers.

Our actual individual stories, though, begin much earlier than our first, conscious recollection.

With only a miniscule number of exceptions we all begin the same way.

Hopefully our start comes through an act of love not just sex. The ancient Greeks called this form of love ‘eros.’

They saw it as a “kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a ‘divine madness’ which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness.”

This quote comes from the recently released first encyclical or ‘circular letter’ of Pope Benedict XVI entitled Deus caritas est, God is love.

An encyclical gives a pope a powerful communication tool to speak to his more than one billion-member church.

“Eros,” Pope Benedict notes, “reduced to pure ‘sex,’ has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity.”

This form of love has to be “disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence.”

Needless to say, the Pope sees that “marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa.”

In the first half of his letter, Pope Benedict talks not only of ‘eros’ but also of ‘agape,’ a love that gives.

Agape “is less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to ‘be there for’ the other.”

Both these differing dimensions must be present, if not “the result is a caricature or, at least, an impoverished form of love.”

Pope Benedict focuses the second half of his encyclical on ‘caritas,’ the taking of love out into the world.

Charity by itself isn’t enough though. Some argue that it can be “in effect, a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and a means of soothing their conscience, while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights.”

But “in addition to justice man needs, and will always need, love.

“Seeing with the eyes of Christ,” Pope Benedict writes, “(we) can give others much more than their outward necessities; (we) can give them the look of love which they crave.”

This underlines his church’s commitment to be a “community of love.”

How do we express our love?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It still isn’t too late to register for a day-long workshop this Saturday, February 11 at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Riverdale by Mark Miller, a noted bioethicist and Roman Catholic priest, entitled Sex and the Catholic Church.

It will explore issues from the varieties of marriage today to the new world of reproductive technologies.

For more information call 456-4934. Sessions begin at 9 a.m.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of