The virtue of charity or love

This was originally prepared as a reflection for a youth ministry session at St. Anthony of Padua parish.

The word “love” in English is used to mean so many different things these days.  For example, when I say “I love pizza”, does the “love” in that statement equate to a husband saying “I love you” to his wife?

In other languages we find different “types” of love have different words.  For example, in Greek, four main types of love are:

  • storge – familial love, love between parent and child
  • philia – friendship or bonds between people with common values or interests;
  • eros – romantic or intimate love;
  • agape – the kind of love that Christ taught and showed and this is the type of love we will be focusing on today.

The word “charity” is the old English word for “agape”; so just to clarify, today we aren’t just talking about giving our spare change to beggars.  “Agape” love is “willing the good of the other and then doing something concrete about it.”  Keep that definition in your mind, we’ll touch on it during different parts of the talk, and for the remainder of this talk, whenever I use the word “love” I mean this “agape” love.

This topic is very deep, but for today I would like to reflect on three points: God’s love for you and me, how we love God back, and how we love others around us.

First, God’s love for you and me.  God loves each and every one of us unconditionally—that means not limited, not just sometimes and not other times, always.  Each of us wouldn’t be standing here on Earth today, if it weren’t for God’s love, or God’s will that we be here.  It doesn’t matter what kind of defects or shortcomings we may perceive that we have, or how badly we may have sinned in the past; God will still love us.

Where do I feel God’s love for me the most?  Definitely after having received the sacrament of reconciliation and leaving the confessional.  Also I feel God’s love after accomplishing something long and difficult.  Think of some of the places or circumstances when you feel God’s love.

Sometimes we just need to hear that reminder: God loves you.  In fact, turn to your neighbour beside you and say “<Name>, God loves you.”  Know that God loves you and me in good times and in bad.  If we are not feeling His love, maybe we are just not open to receiving it.

Onto the second point: how we love God back.  When I was your age (in late elementary or high school), I didn’t really show my love to God.  It wasn’t that I intentionally turned my back on Him, but I just didn’t know about Him.  Although I was baptized when I was a baby, I didn’t learn much seriously about God until I went through RCIA to receive the sacrament of confirmation in my university years. Since then and over the years learning bit by bit more about God, Jesus and the faith through my volunteering with the youth ministry at St. Francis Xavier, this has deepened my desire to love God back.  Even at a human level, it isn’t possible to have a relationship with someone, without knowing them.

Each of us desires God; it is ingrained in each human person’s heart whether they realize it or not.  How do we cultivate our relationship with God?  With time and prayer.  Communication is key to growing any relationship, and prayer is our communication with God.  Remember back a couple months ago, Fr. Justin asked in his homily where each of us prays the best; there are subjectively and objectively better places to pray.  We are lucky here at St. Anthony of Padua to have a beautiful church and an adoration chapel open 18 hours a day.  The adoration chapel here and the church are subjectively better for me; they provide a very comfortable and quiet place to exit out of my daily thoughts like work, and to focus on God.  And because of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is objectively better than, say, my bedroom.

I encourage you to deepen your knowledge about God and the faith.  If you have any questions or doubts, find answers from trusted sources.  The more you know about God’s love for you, the more you will be drawn to love Him back.  And find the best place where you pray, and pray often.

Lastly, how to love others around us.  Jesus says in the Gospel according to John, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12-13)

St. Teresa of Calcutta is a great modern day example.  In Calcutta, India, she tended to the people in the slums, taking care of people no matter how dirty or sick they were.  Remember the definition of “agape” love I mentioned at the beginning?  Mother Teresa definitely “willed the good of others, and then did something concrete about it”.  She left behind wealth, power, privilege and even her own will, for the good of people she served.  She went on to establish the Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor.

Prayer is essential to a life of love.  This is because “agape” love is a gift from God, who is love.  Mother Teresa prayed at least an hour a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament; it was her holy hour that fueled her service to the poor.

Perhaps not all of us are called to live the radical self-sacrificial love shown by Mother Teresa by moving to the slums of India, especially while we are still a youth.  What are the ways we can show this love to those around us?

How will you live out this commandment that Christ gives us?  Will we be kind to our enemies?  Will we try to show affection to siblings we may not get along with?  Are there opportunities at your schools to serve at soup kitchens like The Door is Open?

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.”

1 John 4:7

Prayer is one way to grow closer not only to God but also to those nearest to you. Prayer makes life more bearable, and yes, even more glorious. Learn how to rest in His love, as you give yourself to God. Be still and know that God loves you.

References

The above barely scratches the surface on the virtue of love/charity, but I hope that it inspires you to learn more about it and to live it out better. Here are some references on which I based the talk.

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