Option for love
Fr Andrzej Przybylski
The way of the Church is love
All people feel the desire for love. Everyone wants to love and be loved. This leads to the question about love. What is love? How does it happen that people love? What should we do in order not to be deceived in love? However, love contains as many false and contrary opinions as no other term does. A human being, hungry for love and asking about its true face, stands before the gates of the Church, and before he asks about faith he asks about love because love is as if the more primal need of man than the need of faith. This conviction must have urged the Holy Father Benedict XVI to approach the subject of human love and explain it in the light of God's love in his first encyclical letter. The pontificate of John Paul II began with the statement 'man is the way of the Church' whereas Benedict XVI wants to continue this thought, reminding us that love is the way of the Church. In the introduction to the encyclical we read two excellent statements. The first one reminds us that love is the fundamental option of Christian life and the second one specifies that human being is the image of God mainly because of love. In every human being love is the trace of God the Creator, the trace that is terribly deformed and distorted by sin. The Church has no other important option than to exercise love and this is not done because of pastoral benefits but mainly because the Church follows God in his shepherd's love, follows God who is love.
True and false faces of love
We can meet many people who have been deceived and hurt by false images of love. On the one hand, love is one of the most common subjects of conversation and on the other hand, it is a source of the most painful mistakes. The fruit of wrong love is the increasing wave of divorces, treating sexuality as the domineering factor of the experience of love or the increasing egoism in human relationships. The encyclical of Benedict XVI clearly defines the truth about love. Love is simply love and one cannot differentiate between Christian and pagan love as one cannot speak about Christian and secular sexuality. Love is inscribed into human nature and the Bible speaks about the same love. This statement opens the pastoral ministry of the Church to the whole world and shows that it must have a formula that is opened to every human being. The Pope reminds us that love is a process, which consists of many elements and which develops in time. Thus the experience of love requires simultaneous formation of the spirit, sexuality and emotions. None of them, treated separately, constitutes the truth about love. One cannot call eroticism love and one cannot speak about love without showing its erotic part. This teaching is the starting point for the Catholic doctrine concerning premarital chastity or sexual ethics. The definition of the beauty of human sexuality is to remind the Church of the respect for human body and improvement of human sexuality through agape, i.e. pure and spiritual love. The first part of the encyclical letter is perfect help for youth ministry in the aspect of education in pure love and right use of the body, for the pastoral care for family, by reminding that the most perfect example of marital love is the love of God for his people. God is love but what people call love is not always the same love that God loves.
The Church is community of organised love
The second part of the encyclical letter concerns the concrete activities of the Church. Benedict XVI writes that love must be concrete, expressed in deeds. Pastoral activities must be based on love in order not to become a dry ideology, not to be activities for God but without God. 'Caritas' of the Church cannot be limited only to distribution of gifts or offering material help without inner attitude of love. Without love the Church changes into a organised service of a given ideology and the Church is to be 'ordered community of love' according to the will of Christ. Benedict XVI reminds us that the state cares for justice and care for love is as if the necessity of the Church. Therefore, pastoral love should be the first one although it does not exclude the Church from caring for justice. The greatest argument for Christian authenticity is 'diakonia', i.e. service of love.
However, to believe Love is the most difficult thing
After having read the encyclical letter one can be satisfied that we have been reminded of the elementary truths. In fact, hardly anyone has doubts that love is most important. The final question of this short encyclical letter concerns faith in love. Have we really believed Love? This question is directed to every bishop, priest, man and woman religious, all the lay faithful. Is love the real motif of our pastoral actions and charity works? I believe that the latest encyclical letter of Benedict XVI is another confession of faith of the Church in love since God is love and man is the image of God, so the fundamental option of man and of the Church must be love.