The word “love” is misunderstood in the modern language. Some use this word to mean a wide range of affections from “I love pizza” to “I love my family.” Others use the word to justify acts that are sinful, scandalous, or outright evil. The problem in English is we only have one word to describe various affections.
What exactly does Jesus mean in today’s Gospel when he says “love one another?” Here is a brief Catechesis of the Greek words for the types of love used in the scriptures:
Storge- (STOR-geh)- is an affection type of love, a feeling of empathy based on fondness or familiarity. It’s the love we see between parents and children or between other family members, or between pet and owner. You may never have been friends with a sibling, cousin etc...outside the context of being related to them, but storge is a fondness that comes with familiarity- it can exist even if you can’t stand the person. Even animals experience affection between one another, but this is not the highest form of love; it’s the love that least separates us from other creatures.
Philia (FIL-ee-uh): a love of choice. It is true friendship love; it is the love of a real friend Aristotle identified three forms of friendship:
1. Utility: A friendship of utility is based on function or use. The friends are useful to each other. 2. Pleasure: A friendship of pleasure is based on shared experiences (the friends share a love of the same things, interests, music, sport, etc.. ). In other words, they enjoy being with the friend. 3. Virtue: In a virtuous friendship, there is a common goal in which both people encourage one another to excellence. They do not let the friend be any less than he/she can be. In a virtuous Christian friendship, the common goal is heaven and a life of virtue.
Eros (AIR-os): is ultimately the yearning for the true, good, and beautiful that calls us out of our- selves. It might be found in the physical beauty of something or someone, the beauty of a sunset, or a song that moves us to tears, or in a truth that pierces our heart, or an act of kindness. In marriage, eros draws couples to all that is true, good, and beautiful in the beloved, not just the pleasure he or she can give. Eros is not lust.
The force of eros can be twisted for our own self-serving pleasure, which often happens in our fallen world. Eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just a fleeting pleasure... there is a danger of being in love with pleasure itself, the idea of a person rather than the actual person.
Agape (uh-GAH-pay): Agape love wills, above all else, the good of the other person. When love is no longer focused on personal gratification or comfort, but lays downs one’s life and pleasure for what the other person needs, agape love is blooming. We see agape love in romantic films or certain super hero films where the hero risks his or her life for a loved one or someone else. But agape love is often lived much more quietly: in embracing daily household chores, being kind and patient when a loved one is suffered, forgiving when we have been wronged and letting go of our hurt, putting the needs of our spouse or child before our own.
Love is “willing the good of the other, for the other’s sake.”
No doubt Jesus experienced each of these loves: he felt storge love for his family and philia love for his Apostles. The eros of Christ led him to seek his Father in the intimacy of his prayers, but it was his agape love led him to the Cross.
So, when Jesus says “love one another,” to which “love” is he referring? Agape love.”This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love (agape) for one another” (John 13:35).
God bless you all,
Father Robert Letona