Discerning True Love

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Here are some common pastoral scenarios that involve relationships: A young man claims to love his girlfriend so much and they are living together and raising a family without getting married in the Church and receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. A single woman claims to love her boyfriend who happens to be a married man with his own wife and children. A man opts to euthanize his sick father because he claims to love his father so much that he cannot bear to see him suffer any longer. A young lady in a same-sex relationship with her classmate who strongly claim that they both love each other.

I am usually left wondering, “How can these be called love?” Can cohabitation, sexual relations outside marriage and living in sinful situations be called love? Can adultery and its attendant covetousness and injustice against a spouse be called love? Can we call it love when we terminate the life of another to avoid witnessing their pains? Can sexual relations between people of the same-sex, something that is contrary to both Natural Law and God’s plan for marriage between a man and woman in faithful, exclusive and life-giving union be called love?

St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s Second Reading about the importance of proper loving relationships, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” But he also gives the first and fundamental tool to discern how to love: Is this relationship in agreement with or contrary to God’s laws? “For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Because God has made us out of love and for the sake of love, God alone sets the standards for true love, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” In short, we can never call anything love if God’s laws or Commandments are being broken in any way.

The second tool to discern true love is to ask if we are loving the other in a way that leads the person away from sin, the greatest harm to the soul, towards the fullness of life in Christ. Our love for others is true if we cannot be silent or idle as our loved ones choose sin and self-destructive habits. Hence Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Our love is true when we have first received the truths of God and let these truths illumine our hearts and minds. Knowing and loving these truths and striving to live them out, we are also willing to risk the ire of our loved ones by telling them the painful truth so as to bring them from sinful lives and to “win over our brothers.” Realizing Christ’s love for each and every one of us, we just cannot stand about idle and quite, watching souls that we claim to love, souls redeemed by the blood of Christ perish in their sins.

The third tool to discern true love is to ask if we are reflecting to the other the forgiveness that we have received from God. Jesus assures us in His mystical body of the Church, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” We receive forgiveness for ours sin from God through the sacrament of Reconciliation and reflect these forgiveness to others in relationships bearing in mind how we all fall short of loving in the right way. True love chooses to mediate to others God’s own forgiveness of sins instead of making them public or making the sinner guilty.

Lastly, true love for the other seeks for their temporal and eternal good by prayer and by sacrifice. Our prayers are powerful when we gather together to pray for a single purpose according to the divine will, “Amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” We love and we pray for each other, obtaining for others the grace to journey into heaven.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has made us to love Him and to love others according to His own laws and commandments. No matter how strongly we may feel or how attractive our worldly ways of loving others may appear, we do not and cannot invent the standards of love. In our woundedness, we easily turn away from the ways of true love and allow pleasure and emotions to dictate our way of loving.

God, who has called us to love, knows our sinful tendencies and has united Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ who alone brings to us that true love. Our Lord Jesus is the only one who shows us the love that obeys. He obeyed His Father perfectly, “He has done all things well,” (Mk 7:37) obeying His Father even till death on the cross. Jesus Christ loved us so much to take the risk and become man to tell us the whole truth about our true sinfulness, our need for a Savior, and His Father’s unconditional saving love for each and every one of us. We thanked Him by nailing Him to the cross! Jesus alone shows us that love that forgives even in pain as He cried out on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk23:34) Jesus shows us that love that continues to pray and to sacrifice for us, “He lives to make intercession for us.”(Heb 7:25)

Jesus has also instituted a Church, His own mystical body, where we can participate in His own true love and avoid the temptations to love others in worldly ways. In the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s laws are taught and written in our hearts and we are interiorly moved by His grace to speak and witness to this changeless truth to others in love by virtue of the bond we have with others in Christ. In the Church we receive both forgiveness of sins and divine guarantee of forgiveness in the sacrament of confession and we can reflect this forgiveness to others. Our prayers are powerful in the Church because of our union with Christ and our participation in His powerful prayers at every Eucharist.

Today, as we encounter Jesus Christ in today’s Eucharist and participate deeply in the true love that He brings to us, let us discern and choose carefully how we love others. Because we have been made for love, we cannot love anyhow and hope to have His life growing in us and His joy in our hearts. The way that we choose to love will determine the quality of our lives and our joy in this life and in the life to come.

Our hearts will throb with His life and His joy will be ours if only we strive to obey all God’s commandments out of love for Him, speak and witness to the difficult saving truth to others out of love for them, forgive others for their transgressions and are ready to pray and make sacrifices for others simply because Jesus Christ has died and risen for all of us to love others just like He has loved us.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

image: Sacred Heart by Fr. James Bradley / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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