This article is the second in a series of introductory essays on the document “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” the preparatory catechesis for the eighth World Meeting of Families which will take place in Philadelphia next September 22-27, 2015 with Pope Francis. The first essay on the first chapter is here. This essay introduces the second chapter, “The Mission of Love.” You can get a copy of the document here.
Love Must Be Learned
Section 21 in this chapter ends with the statement “God teaches us to love as he loves” (25). Why do we need to be taught how to love? Can’t we just figure it out on our own? I think there are (at least) two reasons we need to be taught.
First, we are born knowing practically nothing, so we have to learn just about everything, including how to love. Little babies have at least as great a drive to show and get love as they do to walk and talk. It is strange, but no child of sound body and mind ever mis-learns how to walk or talk. Yet it is easy to mis-learn love. That brings us to the second reason: we are born into “a broken universe” (25). It is easy to “mis-learn” love.
The Covenant of Love
Chapter two says that marriage is one of the most important images of God’s love (26). Why is marriage like God’s love?
God’s love and the love between a husband and wife have something in common. They’re both covenants. Through Jesus Christ, God made a covenant with all of humanity. We call it the New Covenant or the Gospel. In a similar way, a husband and wife enter a covenant with each other.
So, what exactly is a covenant?
We sometimes use the words covenant and contract in the same way—because they are both agreements. But there’s a really important difference between them.
A contract can be broken if the parties agree to end it or if one of them violates the agreement. But in a covenant, the agreement is for life. If one of the parties tries to break the covenant, the other party is still supposed to hold fast to it.
When a man and a woman freely and knowingly say, “I will” to their marriage vows, they are married for life. And when God makes a covenant is forever, because that is how long life is for him.
What Is Love?
Love has to be defined too. The authors tell us, “Jesus Christ . . . gives us a new and unexpected definition of love” (36).
Love is “more than a warm feeling or physical attraction” (30). These are important but they happen to us, they come and go, and their object can change. Rather, love is a definite of choice we make (28).
Specifically, love is the choice to will “only the best, the true and ultimate good” for the other (28). That is what we choose for the one we love. If we are married, that is the choice we make toward our spouse and our children.
God makes that same choice toward us. He wills “the best, the true and ultimate good” for us. This is why the chapter says the Bible isn’t sentimental about marriage. The person we say yes to in marriage is imperfect and so are we. It’s easy to be unfaithful to that standard of love.
Love and Forgiveness
Because all this is true, forgiveness must be a big part of love. When it comes to the covenant between God and us, we are imperfectly faithful to him and need his forgiveness. But God keeps willing the best for us, no matter what. When it comes to the covenant of marriage, we are both imperfectly faithful to that love, need each other’s forgiveness, and have promised to keep willing the best for the other and for our children, no matter what.
I think that is what is surprising about what Jesus Christ teaches us about love.
If the thing we are made to do is love and we must learn how to do that, then isn’t the best environment for a baby to learn to love properly and for his or her parents to learn to love properly within a covenanted relationship?