What do you love on Sundays

Our Sunday: Eros, Philia and Agape

Prof. Dr. Stefan Mückl - Vatican City

Mt; 10, 37-42

There are terms with a seemingly intuitive clarity - you think you know what is meant, but you find it difficult to put it into words. One of these terms is that of “love”. She is spoken of in today's Gospel, albeit in a rather bulky, even harsh - some would say: “not very pastoral” - way: whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever is son or daughter loves more than me, is not worthy of me, the Lord warns us (Mt 10:37).

Our Sunday - to listen to:

That sounds like a provocation. Didn't God himself expressly demand in the Fourth Commandment to honor father and mother and linked this commandment as the only one with a promise - so that you could live long and be well (Dt 5:16, cf. also Ex 20:12) ? And does it not contradict the essence of love if it is hierarchized, as it were, through specifications of who is to be loved more and who is less?

The double commandment of love

At least one can point out that the statement of today's Gospel in the Holy Scriptures is by no means alone, that is, it does not represent an “outlier”. Similarly, the famous double commandment of love says: You should love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. That is the most important and first commandment. The second is just as important: You should love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37 ff.). The Lord thus ties in with the same commandment that the Book of Deuteronium deals with and that every pious Jew observes every day to this day: Hear, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is only. Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Dt 6.4-5).
This leads us to decisive questions: What does revelation actually mean by love, how does it meet us in the Holy Scriptures? What does it mean to love God? How does the second dimension of that double commandment to love one's neighbor relate to this?

"Simon, ... do you love me?"

The fact that our ideas of “love” seem so clear has something to do with our language. Because our German language is so far, it is hard to believe, "under-complex". Wherever she only knows the one term “love”, which then has to cover a whole range of situations and layers of meaning, the original language of the New Testament, Greek, uses three of them: eros, philia and agape. The eros seeks the beautiful in one's own life and describes passionate sensual love. In the religious field it plays no role, if we ignore phenomena like temple prostitution and reports about amorous escapades of ancient deities. In contrast, philia strives for the good of the other; it is personal spiritual love characterized by altruism. What is new in relation to the ancient understanding is agape, an expression rarely used in profane Greek. It means unconditional, all-embracing and unconditional love.

Infidelity and Drama of Peter

The dialogue between the risen Lord and Peter on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias is indicative of these different meanings (Jn 21: 15-19). Jesus asked Peter three times: Simon, ... do you love me? Meanwhile, in the first two questions, the Lord asks him for unconditional, all-embracing, unconditional love (agapâs-me). Peter, probably remembering the bitter sadness of unfaithfulness and the drama of his own weakness at the moment of betrayal, answers Him: Lord, I love you (philô-se), that is, “I love you with my poor human love”. Only the third time does Jesus himself use the term philia: Phileîs-me? (Do you love me?) Now Peter understands that Jesus is satisfied with his poor love, the only one he is capable of. What makes him sad, as the evangelist notes (Jn 21:17), is not so much the repeated question from the Lord, but the insight that he can no longer give.
That agape can only exist if and because there is God. It is that love that measures the love of God, the love of that God who first loved us (1 John 4:19) - because He is love (1 John 4: 8.16).

"What does it mean to love God?"

This immediately leads us to the second set of questions: What does it mean to love God? First of all, it is helpful to ascertain why we should actually love God. The answer is as simple as it is profound: Because He is, because He is God. Perfect love, we said, is unconditional, all-embracing and unconditional. So it does not depend on what we ourselves have received or perceive as received. Accordingly, the reason for our love for God is precisely not the fact that he does something, even if it is good. That can certainly strengthen our love. But God is lovable because of his being - God is love - in which He lets us participate.

To love God means to keep his commandments

Accordingly, our love for God is a supernatural love; it is not due to human sympathy and empathy, but is a gift and a gift. That is why it is absolute. Having received them from the Creator, no creature should be equated or preferred to Him. Whenever this happens, we turn away from God and towards the creature - with this brief definition St. Augustine sin. This does not consist in the fact that we enjoy the created things - which is legitimate, yes even willed by God, since they too emerged from his creative hand - but when we do this without him or even against him. This is exactly how true love for God receives its yardstick: Our entire activity must be measured by whether it is always based on him, on his word and his advice. St. John puts it in a nutshell: because love for God consists in keeping his commandments. (1 Jn 5: 3). The essence of love consists - contrary to widespread misconceptions - not in fleeting and changeable feelings and passions, but in the will, which is firmly oriented towards one goal: to fulfill God's will, to follow him in our actions and actions.
So many saints show us what that means: those unknown and unnamed, who quietly, self-sacrificingly and renouncing their own needs care for a sick relative, as well as those whom we are allowed to call on like St. Mother Teresa.

Is there a hierarchy of love?

This brings us to the third set of questions: How does the commandment to love God relate to that of neighborly love? Can there be a hierarchy, a priority in love?
Let us listen again to today's Gospel: Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me. (Mt 10.40). Elsewhere, the same evangelist, St. Matthew: Whoever welcomes a ... child in my name welcomes me (Mt 18: 5).
Christian love of neighbor receives its proprium precisely because it is centered in Christ: in my name, for my name's sake, we should act - because we see Christ in the other. It is precisely this that distinguishes true charity from mere philanthropy and diffuse distant love, no matter how much it dresses in enthusiastic rhetoric like Schiller’s "all people become brothers". More precisely, they will - and only - if it is done in recognition of the fact that they all have the same father.

"Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me"

This centering on Christ also leads to a legitimate marginal order in neighborly love, an ordo caritatis. If God has placed certain people by our side - such as through relatives, friendship, specific care relationships or in concrete situations (as in the case of the Good Samaritan) - it is precisely in them that our love has to be shown. Above all, of course, is the call of the Lord to take part in the building up of the kingdom of God and to follow him: Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Mt 10:38). God calls us again and again to the great, our manageable relationships and horizons far beyond. Such a call is the outflow of His love, a love that asks and awaits reciprocation.
(radio vatican - claudia kaminski)