We have heard Jesus command to us: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). And we have also heard it said: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). So which one is right?
Both are right, because Jesus is the one who has shared these teachings with us.
But how?!? They both seem to contradict each other!!
Mhm… not necessarily.
You see, the focus word in these commandments is LOVE, and love is an ability that stays consistent if you have the right idea about its true meaning. The best definition that gets to the core of what love truly is, is St Thomas Aquinas’s: that love is a practice of “consistently willing and choosing the good of another”. In essence, this is what Jesus has been commanding us all along:
Consistently will and choose the good of one another, as I have done so for you.
Consistently will and choose the good of one another, as you do so for yourself.
But the real definition of love has been buried by the conflicting by the distorted images of love that are transmitted through the media in our current society. And so we need to identify these false definitions of love that may have influenced our own lives and we need start letting them go.
LIE #1: Love is not a feeling
When you begin a relationship – or even a friendship – with someone, it most often starts with a sense of attraction and a feeling of joy. However, that feeling doesn’t stay forever. When you have established a deep connection with someone after that initial feeling of attraction, you may find yourself in conflict, experiencing tension, arguments and such. This is is the truth: love is not always rainbows and butterflies!
This is what happens to us with the people we are most familiar with! If you think about your bonds with your closest relatives and even your life-long best friend, you can relate with this truth: that you love them, but you can also get annoyed with them. There are moments of tension and conflict as well as moments of fun and laughter. But reducing love to a feeling pretty much implies a sense of instability and inconsistency, two traits that are central to our search for love in our lives. Love does come with its joyful moments, but it also comes with discomfort and vulnerability. But one thing we know for sure is that, when we have established a deep friendship with someone, we consistently desire their good, even through the ups and downs.
LIE #2: Pornography and masturbation are NOT acts of self-love
Jesus called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. In reference to this commandment, St Thomas Aquinas said that “to love neighbour as self means seeing their sharing in the good as constitutive of your own sharing in the good”. Thus, self-love means that we see ourselves in the same light of worth and value as we should see others, in the beauty, goodness and truth God has created us in: that we were created in His image and likeness for the sake of love, which is to consistently will and choose the good of another (an in the case of self-love, the good of our selves). But nowadays our society is confusing self-indulgence with self-love. Turning to pornography and masturbation for sexual relief and stress relief is becoming all too common, with many modern feminists going as far as to say they are acts of self-love. But neither porn nor masturbation are acts of self-love.
When we watch pornography for stress relief, sexual relief or emotional relief, we are using the image of other persons for the sake of our own self-interest. In watching porn, we are not choosing the good of another, because we are reducing them to objects for our own self-gratification disregarding their own worth and dignity. In the case of masturbation, we probably think that we are not harming anyone. Even if any of us may claim to not have any lustful thoughts towards anyone while masturbating or may claim to not be watching porn while masturbating, the fact is that we ARE harming someone. We are harming our own selves, because just like we are reducing the people in pornography to objects of pleasure, when we masturbate we are reducing our own selves to objects of sexual pleasure and completely disregarding your own worth and dignity.
Which brings us to the greatest lie that media has been feeding us…
LIE #3: Love is not sex
Love is constantly reduced to sex in the media. At the very core of our beings, each and every one of us desires to be loved, but we encounter so many conflicting messages through social media: that to get all the likes you have to be showing skin, that to get all the followers you need to look sexy and attractive, that to be loved you need to be open to have sex like the celebrities on TV. Marketing ploys to use sex as a selling point are a way that our innocence is being exploited for the sake of consumerism.
That is not to say that sex is a bad thing. NOT AT ALL! Sex is a beautiful gift created by God as the ultimate act of total and fruitful self-gift that is only exclusive between a married man and woman, as a way to express their loving bond in one-flesh union. It is a gift that should always be cherished, a way towards intimacy with that one person we choose to live with for the rest of our lives.
But these are the issues when we see sexuality, as the end all be all of love:
- Love is perceived as exclusive to a man-woman relationship
- Love becomes measured by sexual compatibility
We are called to love through fostering union and communion with one another, and it is not an ability exclusive to spouses. We are called into union and communion not just through the gift of our bodies, but also through the gift of our minds, the gift of our hearts and the gift of our souls. We are called to this giftedness with every person we encounter in our own lives, with God Himself, with nature and with our own selves.
The thing we need to be more aware of is that love is an ability: love being the conscious and consistent choice of willing the good of another. We love through the way we listen to others, we love through the way we cook them dinner, we love them by being patient with their imperfections, we love them by sharing our vulnerabilities with them, we love them by allowing them to love us back…
We all yearn for love – there is no question about that. But the understanding of love has been completely changed throughout the centuries to mean something that it isn’t. One thing is for sure: we are all seeking something that is consistent and that is stable, and we can only find it if we reclaim true love in our lives.