By Sister Jo Ann Jansing, OSU
This year the planets and our liturgical calendars align to give us two events on the same day—one of penance and fasting, the other of candy hearts and romance, to ponder the meaning of love. I receive a little booklet monthly from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), which contains daily thoughts from a variety of people that are collected and printed for its subscribers’ edification. Two of these “thoughts for the day” captured my heart in the January booklet. One, by John Neafsey, reads, “Love is not only a feeling. It is also a choice we make or action we take, regardless of the feeling of the moment. Steadfast love calls for tenacity and commitment over the long haul, even in trying times.” The other, by David J. Wolpe, states, “Romantic single gestures grab attention and acquire the luster of heroism, but it is the daily, draining effort to be kind, to rise above pettiness, irritation, and limitations that is truly arduous, and praiseworthy.” Each of these quotations gives the two faces of love that we commemorate each year, one on Valentine’s Day when our romantic love is aroused and the other on Ash Wednesday when we ponder what agape love is, that “long haul” love.
Agape, from Ancient Greek, is the word for the highest form of love, the love of God, which we strive to have for our fellow brothers and sisters as Christians. It is different from Philla (brotherly) love, or Eros (romantic) love. Agape is used to describe the love that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The best description of agape love can be found in 1 Corinthians:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” — 1 Corinthians 4–8
As a kid, I remember how we counted our valentines each year at school and how we were thrilled or disappointed, depending on the number we received. It meant we were loved or we weren’t. I didn’t think of love beyond what others did to make me feel good. I didn’t pay as much attention then to the love that was shown by my parents as they sacrificed so much personally in order for us to have what we needed, their “tenacity and commitment over the long haul, even in trying times.” That came later as I matured. As a religious, I have witnessed many of my sisters making choices, “regardless of the feeling of the moment,” being faithful to the “daily, draining effort to be kind, to rise above pettiness, irritation, and limitations that is truly arduous.” I have witnessed wives and husbands whose commitment went far beyond the honeymoon and who strive to live 1 Corinthians 13 daily.
It’s still nice to be remembered on Valentine’s Day, but that kind of romantic love doesn’t survive what is demanded for commitment over the long haul, agape love. On Ash Wednesday we initiate the journey of Lent which commemorates the agape love of Jesus, who lived and died as one of us, faithfully committed to us “over the long haul” through life and death to resurrection. During this Lent I want to be inspired to move beyond the “giving up of candy” kind of practice to growing in the agape practice of daily commitment to my sisters, my family, my neighbor, my God. May it be so for all of us. May we enjoy our valentines when we have them but be committed to the long haul of agape love.