Four Loves

Last week I finished C. S. Lewis’ classic examination of love. In his book, Four Loves, Lewis lays out love with the help of the ancient Greeks. They defined love as Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape – this last one, Agape, is known in Christianity as Charity. Let’s take a moment to see these loves through Lewis’ eyes, then wonder with St. Peter and Jesus how we may respond to love in all its forms.

Storge may be translated into “Affection” – “affection, especially of parents to offspring”; but also of offspring to parents. Thinking about infancy, a child is completely dependent on the mother for nourishment, comfort, and care. Paradoxically, the mother is also dependent upon the little one. She’s dependent on her child through the maternal need to give of herself. It’s a love that needs to be needed joined to the need-love of the child[1].

Storge, Lewis argues, can also be attributed to things other than humans. For example, we can have affection towards our pets, nature, our country, town, or parish. We sometimes hear people say that they love pizza, a movie, or chocolate. All these types of affections are considered storge love – again, affectionate love.

Next comes friendship, or “Philia.” Here, Lewis gives us a contrasting image of lovers and friends. With lovers, we may picture them gazing into one another’s eyes. They are face-to-face. With friendship, however, friends are side-by-side with their eyes fixed ahead.[2]They don’t look ahead at different objects, but stare at the same thing. It’s like going to a concert and you bump into someone you half-heartedly knew, and you look at each and seem to say, “You too? You like this band? I thought I was the only one.” And here begins the friendship where the bond strengthens because of a common interest, love, or desire.

Lewis quotes Emerson who quoted Jesus’ question to Peter found in our Gospel reading this morning, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[3] Friends are the ones who after being apart for weeks, months, or even years pick up the conversation, the argument, the discussion where it was left. Time passes, but the common pursuit holds fast.

The next love is Eros which Lewis says is the “state which we call “being in love”; or, if you prefer, that kind of love which lovers are “in.” Where we might have a flexible amount of friends and affections, with eros, we discriminate and are distinct. Lewis writes, “Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman.”[4] In our own prayer book’s marriage rite, the woman consents to the man, and the man to the woman when they say they will love, comfort, honor and keep one another in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful to this one as long as they both shall live.[5] Theologically, the marriage rite points to the “mystical…union between God and Man,” the Incarnation – or Christ, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. Ultimately, Christ as groom gave his life for the bride, the Church, so that she may have new life in him.

The fourth and final love Lewis speaks of is Charity or Agape. For Lewis, Agape love is grace-filled. If storge, philia, and eros are natural loves, then agape is supernatural. It comes from outside ourselves, and we participate in this love like playing with a new gift. We’re surprised by this love, mystified by this love, and forever grateful when we get hints of it – or see it out of the corner of our eye. The great Biblical example of receiving this type of love is the divine fiat of Our Lady in the Annunciation, “Let it be unto me according to thy will.” Listen to Lewis again, “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”[6] Mother Mary would later learn that her own heart would be pierced like a sword because of her sorrows…because of her charity towards her Son, and thus God.

These are the four loves of antiquity, and in today’s Gospel, the writer plays with half of them. There’s a conversation between Peter and Jesus using agape and philia.

“Do you agape me, Peter?” Yes, you know that I philia you.”

Jesus begins with the highest form of love, a love that is unconditional. He invites Peter into its company. Perhaps it’s too much to ask at this point because Peter desires friendship. I love you like a friend, he might have said. The second time Jesus asks the same question. Peter answers the same way. “I love you like a friend.” Then something amazing happens. It shouldn’t surprise us and at the same time it’s a bit haunting. Jesus asks Peter for the last time, not “Do you love me unconditionally (agape),” but Do you love me like a friend? In other words, Jesus meets Peter where he is in his Philia love. Quoting Lewis again who was quoting Emerson, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[7] Peter, answering in the affirmative, is now charged with “tending” and “feeding” Jesus’ sheep. In other words, learning to love others as Christ loves Him. And how did Christ love him? As a friend who laid down his life for him. The scriptures go on to tell us what kind of death Peter would have. It would be a death where he too laid down his life for his friends, and perhaps before then, receiving the divine gift of agape love, of unconditional cooperative love that wills the good of the other.

This week, why not meditate on love? Perhaps you may read 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes called the love chapter in the Bible. Maybe 1 John chapter 4 where John boldly claims that God is Love. Those of you who are married, why not pick up the prayer book and together read the marriage liturgy within it. This week, look for the various nuances of the four loves, and laugh at yourself when you find one. Be surprised by love this week.

[1]                The C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis (HarperOne: New York, 2017), 763.

[2]                Ibid., 786.

[3]                Ibid., 786.

[4]                Ibid., 805.

[5]                The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 424

[6]                Ibid., Lewis, 824.

[7]                Ibid., 786

Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The First Creed of the Christian Church

I’ve had a strong pull, or better, a push to look ahead and see what’s out there on the horizon. It is, after all, a new year. Even with this mental exercise I’m reminded that Jesus once warned that those who are to be his followers should not look back on the life they had, but to plow forward into a new life with him. He labeled this forward thinking and being and reality the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). When Lot’s wife, so the story goes, longingly looked back on her cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, she became a pillar of salt, trapped in the nostalgia of two great cities now gone (Gen 19:26). When I say that I’ve had a strong push to look ahead, what I may mean is that I don’t necessarily care much for 2021, so why not look to 2022? But even looking ahead to 2022 gives me similar notions of despair that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps I’m mourning an out-of-control culture with its wars and rumors of wars. Society, so it seems, has lost its footing with many saying there is no footing at all, so find your own! Ideologies such as these leave individuals and families isolated and confused having no common values in which to begin healthy conversations, much less – debate. Maybe I lament that everything (and I mean everything) has been and continues to be reduced down to politics. If I hold onto these anxieties for too long, I start to turn to salt. I end up clenching my fists, tightening my jaw, wanting to scream, “Is there anything sacred anymore?” Maybe I’m just getting older, and I’m finally to that mid-life question, “Am I the last of my kind?”

I believe God saw I was feeling sorry for myself so he sent me an article from the catholic journal, First Things, by one of my favorite journalists George Weigel, who had similar sentiments as me at year’s end. In his latest article, George tells how he called up a friend and simply said, “Give me some good news.” To which [his friend] immediately replied, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” After his encounter, George wrote, “It’s always good for the Church to make that basic confession of faith [Jesus Christ is Lord], but especially when the shadows are lengthening across the historical landscape.”[1] He shares how the ancient Church had a custom on the Solemnity of the Epiphany (which the Church celebrated last Thursday) to look ahead. They did this by giving a preview or an itinerary about holy days on the horizon. The ancient Church announced the date of Easter and the other moveable feasts throughout the whole of the Church Year. For example, Ash Wednesday falls on March 2nd this year. Palm Sunday’s April 10th, and the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, is on April 17th, but not before Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday a few days before, and on and on and on the calendar of God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church goes. The point was (and is) to look ahead, and not to the chaos that most certainly lay on, but to the calm, the real, and the truth that is the kingdom of God. 

Weigel ends his piece with these words,

“No matter what the vicissitudes and trials of history, Christians live in a different time zone: the time zone of salvation history. That is the truth to which the solemn liturgical proclamation of those dates attests. And that is why, however shaky the grounds for optimism, there is every reason for hope.”[1]

~George Weigel

My friends, right now (today) is one of those days for hope. On Sunday, Jesus got baptized, and not for the sins of the past but for the solemnity of the present. Getting into those muddy waters showed everyone that God was willing (and is willing) to get dirty with us, walk alongside us, and even be broken and suffer with us. Jesus Christ is Lord, and I am not. Jesus Christ is Lord, not the powers and principalities of this world. Jesus Christ is Lord…Jesus Christ is Lord. 

Finally, it’s my hope and my prayer for you and me right now (today) that when you get stuck in your ruminating mind, when someone else pushes you to your limits, or when you feel all alone, recall that ancient creed of the Church which brings us back into the time zone of salvation and on and into God’s home of hope. It may be another rough year ahead, only God knows, but thanks be to God that Jesus Christ is Lord.

[1]                George Weigel, “No Optimism, Much Hope,” First Things, (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2022/01/no-optimism-much-hope) accessed on 1/5/2022.

Pietà

During my time as a hospital chaplain I’ve had the privilege of interacting with a variety of foster parents. Many feel called to the compassionate task of caring for children with chronic illness and differing abilities. They spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices, appointments, and children’s hospitals. Sometimes the biological parents are involved. Sometimes not.

The other day I was called to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) by a patient’s nurse. She informed me that the biological mom was tearful while the foster mom was holding steady. Both were bedside. The little boy in the hospital bed was very sick, and the family (biological and foster) made the impossible decision to withdraw care in order to take away the suffering that this small patient had endured for far too long.

When I entered the room the biological mom was having a hard time, and after introductions she said she needed to step out of the room. I escorted her to the lobby and showed her where she could find the garden. She excused herself full of anticipatory grief. I went back upstairs into the patient’s room again to discover the patient out of bed with the foster mom cradling and rocking him in her arms. With tears now in her own eyes, she hugged him close and comforted him with her soft, soothing voice. For me, the scene was so intimate, I like the biological mother, had to excuse myself. I left them to be family one with another.

Pietà by Michelangelo

Mary, we might say, is both Jesus’ biological and foster mom. Biological because she gave birth to him. Foster because she knew that ultimately he came from someone else and belonged to everyone through love. Mary is also remembered as birthing the Church, and through holy baptism we become adopted children of God.

“God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will…”

~Ephesians 1:5

As we make our way through these last fews days of Advent, meditate on the love your Heavenly Father has for you. Ponder, also, the great mystery of the Church, and how through it we meet Jesus who loves us like a Mother.

Friends of Jesus

On day I was praying the Rosary, reflecting on the Luminous Mysteries, two of which contemplate the Wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1-12) and the Institution of the Eucharist (Lk 22:14-20). It dawned on me that Jesus brought the words of his mother from Cana into his last supper with his disciples when he commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Mary said something similar when she commanded the servants attending to the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.” When we do the things Jesus tells us, we are no longer called his servants, but friends (Jn 15:15).

Contemplate what it means to be friends with Jesus. Listen for his voice. If that’s too hard, listen for his voice in others like Mary. Continue on in this season of Advent asking God to reveal his Son to you through luminous mysteries galore.

The Kingdom of God is Near

“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

~Hosea 8:7

Long ago, the prophet Hosea talked about Israel moving at a whirlwind pace manufacturing lies, and leading masses of people to break promises their ancestors made to God. Do we, here in our own time, live at such an exhausted, contrived, hurricane-like pace – culturally, economically, politically, etc. – that life in God’s eternal spirit, inside the eye of the hurricane, can now be our only home? Long ago, superstitions chained society’s minds. Today, superstitions have morphed into atheistic ideologies confusing the temporal with the eternal. Holding onto any ideology – unchecked – instead of discerning God’s Will will lead the whole world to death, faster than if a fabricated whirlwind passed through.

Advent is an opportunity to dust off the spiritual ear and gift of prophesy, and partnering with Jesus, name and describe the labor pains (Matt 24:8) that must be endured as we await the birth of something wonderfully new – again. 

Change

Have you noticed the leaves? 
They're changing color. Falling, softly. Making a winter's blanket for mother earth. 
Have you counted the colors, noticed how they mix and match? 
What about the wind? Like a band leader, he provides melody for dancing. 
Up. Up. Similar music transcends. Sun and clouds show off their latest riffs. 
The forest's canopy crescendos, then a decrescendo glistens. Soft. Light.
On the drive to school we counted the colors, looked for yard decorations, and wondered about seasons. 
It's too early for Christmas music, but the sentiment's there. 
It's too late for rum, but the taste lingers like a phantom limb. 
I stand outside. Still. While the world turns.

Pain & Prayer

I was rounding at the hospital a few nights ago, and came upon a man awaiting chemotherapy treatment. Before the procedure he would undergo a form of stem cell therapy that proved painful. He shared that at his last treatment, and at some point amidst all the pain he started praying, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”

He explained to me, “There was nothing else I could do so I decided to thank Jesus and to call upon his name.” I was dumbstruck by the faith of this patient. It was a prayer of great acceptance. Through his witness, I was reminded of St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi who bore much pain the last few years of her life. When asked how she could bear it all, she pointed to a crucifix and said,

“See what the infinite love of God has suffered for my salvation. That same love sees my weakness and gives me courage. Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ and who offer up their own to God through his passion find their pains sweet and pleasant.”

~St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi

Lord, let me have an ounce of this type of faith. Thank you for the witness of this patient to me that night, and thank you for St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi. Amen.