Faith & Thought

All of Us Are Called to Love; All of Us Need to Be Loved

It is of course possible to freely hate, and it is possible to treat people indifferently, to reduce them to “its” rather than “thous.” I believe that there are many temptations in our society to miss the uniqueness and profound dignity of other persons. 

I believe that in our society it is easy to reduce people to some characteristic they might have instead of treating them with enormous respect…that is, instead of loving them. 

To be a human person is to be called to love. There is a deep need in every person to love and a deep need to be loved. This is how God has made us. It is connatural for people to love in spite of any obstacles that our society might present. 

The following is from C.S. Lewis’ book “The Four Loves” (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1960), a book I strongly recommend: 

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid entanglements, lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. 

“But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell” (p. 169). 

I have read many books about the mystery of love and also written a few about it, as well as talking about it in all the classes in philosophy that I teach at St. John’s University. I believe that two of the most profound mysteries about the human person are that every person is called to love and every person needs to be loved. 

I think the primary vocation of every person, whether single or married, male or female, is to live as a self-gift, which is another way of saying to live as a lover, as one who makes a gift of self to others. Not only is every person called to be a lover but every person needs to be loved in order to grow and develop as a person. 

I have heard that babies who are washed, fed, and clothed but not loved, die. All their physical needs can be taken care of but if they are not loved, they die. If that is true, it is amazing. An adult who is not loved is missing probably the greatest gift that can lead to personal growth. 

In a class discussion about a year ago, one of the students said that she thought that no one knew what love is. I think she meant that people might have very different views of love. I pointed out that if it is true that no one knows what love is then we should stop using the word “love.” 

I believe that love is a free self-gift that one person offers to another or to a group of people. It can be apparently small like opening a door for someone or greeting someone with “Good morning” or thanking someone. Or it can be profound, like committing yourself to another person through marriage vows or through vows made to God. 

I use the term “apparently small” to describe some acts of love because I have come to believe there are no small acts of love. Greeting someone with a cheerful “Good morning” might change that person’s day, and that person might enrich other people’s lives as he or she greets them or spends time with them after having been influenced by your “Good Morning” or your “Thank you.” 

In other words I have come to believe that there are no such actions that are small acts of love. An act of love can be like throwing a pebble into a brook. We have no idea how far the ripples might go. 

In last week’s column I mentioned that really hating someone will change your relationship with everyone. I also pointed out that the hater is hurt more than the one hated. There are two questions I have been reflecting on for some time. 

I am wondering if an act of love changes the lover’s relationship with everyone. I am also wondering if the lover benefits from loving more than the person whom he or she loves. I don’t know the answer to either of these questions. 

I have an opinion about each question, but I certainly cannot prove that my opinion is correct. I suppose I will have to continue reflecting on the mystery of love. I will not at all mind doing that. 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.