I remember my very first encounter with love. I was about seven years old at a wedding, and completely enamored by one of the bridesmaids. She was stunning. I was an innocent little kid who could not understand why I was so mesmerized by this person and what was this spell cast on me. I could not eat; I could not enjoy myself. I walked around listening to my own “Wonder Years” monologue. The year was the summer of 1987, and I was in love with a stranger, and I didn’t know why. The whole night, I mustered up the courage to ask her to dance. When the time was right, I was going to do it. Finally, the DJ played my song “If you don’t know by now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and I asked her to dance. She laughed out loud, not like an LOL type laugh, but the original Laugh-Out-Loud. An audible, deep from the diaphragm and loud enough for everyone to hear type laugh. It hurt me. But before I go any further, let us first chase this meaning of love together.
“What is love?” was a popular song made famous by one-hit wonder Haddaway and popularized via Saturday Night Live comedians Will Ferrel and Chris Kattan in their characters The Butabi Brothers. The song, however, did not need The Roxbury Guys to help it, because its song title was a complex question of the dilemma of love and love’s true meaning. For many young people, spring and summer are the seasons of love, becoming more than just a song in “Grease” (“Summer Lovin”). Allow me, however, to help guide you in the direction of true love, so you don’t aimlessly seek an unfulfilling, empty love.
Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote in his preface to “Life in Christ”: “Satan may appear in many disguises like Christ, and at the end of the world will appear as a benefactor and philanthropist, but Satan never has and never will appear with scars. Only heaven’s love can show the marks of love’s greatest gift in the night of forever past.” Fulton Sheen, in the first few lines of his book, poetically and powerfully captures love’s nucleus: sacrifice. In order to understand God’s plan for love we have to understand Jesus, “heaven’s love” come down for us. Jesus’ model of love was a radical change from the world’s love, and His example of love revolutionized the way we embraced ourselves and the rest of humanity.
When asked which was the greatest commandment in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus responded biblically (Deut 6:5): “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment” (Mt 22:37-38). What Jesus said next frazzled the biblical scholars of the time: “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (v.39,40). Was Jesus saying that we cannot love our neighbors unless we know how to love ourselves? Yes. If you can not love what God has created perfectly in you today, then it will be harder for you to love the person that God created for you. This is not the green light to take self-care to an unhealthy selfish level. I am proposing that you look at yourself via the eyes of your Creator and see as He does. Love you as He loves you.
Prior to Jesus, love was a free-for-all. It was defined mainly by the senses. Hence, hedonism became a major player in various societies. Hedonism in its simplistic form is the idea that pleasure is good, and pain is bad, therefore seek pleasure. A more worldly definition comes from Jeremy Bentham’s opening words to his book “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.” He writes: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.” But how could one serve two masters? One would have to be wrong and the other right according to sacred Scripture. “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” In the world of hedonism, all that is pleasurable is good, and everything else is simply not. When Jesus introduced a new way of loving that involved sacrifice, people did not necessarily jump in line. Yet our very blueprint was designed for this type of love. Think about it, everything we want to excel in or love comes with a level of sacrifice. A guitarist needs to painfully build calluses for love of the music. A ballet dancer doing pointe will sacrifice her feet for love of the dance. An athlete will put himself through a gauntlet to achieve the title of champion and for love of the sport. Your very biology screams of the blueprint of suffering as good. In order to build muscle, muscles need to tear, and protein needs to fill in tears. Mothers giving birth is a sign of sacrificial love. The examples are endless. Therefore, our authentic design is counter to the hedonistic lifestyle: not all suffering and sacrifice is bad; they can be good.
Love truly doesn’t shy away from suffering, difficulties, and hurt. It “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
It was the summer of 1987, and I asked my first love to dance, and she laughed. That deep laugh was heard by people but it was amplified by my fear of rejection and sounded louder in my heart. She put out her hands and said, “You are too cute” and danced with me. I never saw her again, but that moment was lived out in a new way when 21 years later I bumped into the woman my God prepared for me to marry. We danced in the summer of 2009 and have not stopped dancing since. A dance that comes with all that love has to offer, but through the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, we continue to bear, believe, hope and endure all things, and our three children will continue the dance.
Anchor columnist Oscar Rivera Jr., is director of Youth Ministry in the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization. firstname.lastname@example.org