What Is Love? How Do We Do It? ....by Sr. Dorothy

“I did not understand that love is primarily a language of presence. And that the nature of any form of love is revealed in its acts more than in its words.” --Michael D. O’Brien, quoted in On the Edge of Eternity, A Biography of Michael D. O’Brien by Clemens Cavallin.

I have thought for a long time that “love” is a much over-used word in our time, and that it can mean, as we use it so variously, many different things. As Christians, we are commanded to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And that’s not all—we’re also commanded to love our enemies: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”—Luke 6:27-28

Also, Proverbs 24:17 says: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

What are we to make of these instructions? What do they mean in practical terms? How are we to behave with with those we call family, friends and neighbors? And how with our enemies?

1st Corinthians 4-8a: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Reading those words again, I wonder if there are many of us who daily live up to them—say, just with family and friends, if not enemies. We can probably think of times when we were able to follow parts of this description in one situation or another; I personally cannot think of any time when I have been able to follow them completely. We might like to think we have been more successful in just being present to others, at least, but have we? We can be easily distracted, and presence requires attention. So at times we may fail, and yet...we must keep trying.

What does it actually take to love? It seems to me that love is about being connected, whether closely or more loosely, to others—even if it’s simply the connection among all created beings. And it requires us to care about the well-being of others. Caring means that there are times we need to take some kind of action in order to facilitate that well-being, an action large or small, so long as it is something needed by the other and not only something we would like to do for our own satisfaction. Sometimes the action may seem like not much, just sitting with someone, for example, and being attentive to who and how they are at that moment. This “not much” of an action may be one of the most important, when we have the patience and care to be able to do it--especially if we can do it when what we’d really like is words to make things better—as words so rarely do.

As for loving our enemies, Benedictine Oblate Elizabeth Scalia wrote a piece for WordOnFire.org which contains the struggle around this paradox and also a way through. I encourage you to read the whole piece at https://www.wordonfire.org/articles/fellows/how-does-loving-ones-enemies-work-really/

 ...but meantime, this idea of Elizabeth’s really struck to the heart of things for me: She says that loving our perceived enemies is about discernment and about our salvation, indicating that we must look for the way to mercy within ourselves—through prayer. She quotes Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

We pray for our family and friends. And in praying for our enemies, we actually pray for ourselves too—trying to find God’s love, God’s mercy, within us so that we can share it. This seems like a good place to begin a journey of learning more about love.





  • Comment posted by S. Monika on April 19, 2024 at 7:47AM (2 months ago)

    The dogwood tree is so delicate and yet looks very strong. Reaching upwards with every branch. I love the illustration and the writing, too. How can humans transform into completely loving beings? I await the answer.

    • Comment posted by Dorothy on April 19, 2024 at 10:04AM (2 months ago)

      Thanks, Sr. Monika. The answer...we keep searching and trying.

  • Comment posted by Sr Julian on April 12, 2024 at 5:29PM (2 months ago)

    Sr Dorothy describes beautifully how to love. It isn't easy, even with loved ones, let alone with those with whom we struggle. Thanks for this wisdom!

    • Comment posted by Sr. Dorothy on April 12, 2024 at 6:24PM (2 months ago)

      thanks, SJC!

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