How many of you, after reading the title of this post (and seeing the picture), immediately thought the following words:
Baby don't hurt, don't hurt me, no more.
I imagine there are at least some people (at least those close to my age) that did indeed have the above lyrics go through their minds, as it did mine. Even if you don't know who wrote this song you have probably heard it before somewhere, sometime. There is nothing really spectacular about the song–electronic music and lyrics that could have been written by a kindergartener–but nevertheless, it captured the minds of our lovesick society. The reason for this is not because of Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan on Saturday Night Live, but because our society truly wants to know: what is love?
You see, our modern society has little, if any, knowledge of what true love is. In our secularized and God-less society love has become 'whatever feels good.' But then, by pursuing only that which 'feels good', people get hurt along the way, which of course resulted in the above mentioned song being written in the first place. By this I do not want to appear to be condemning feelings or imply that they are not real. Feelings are real; in fact, they are strong truth tellers for us–but only in regards to things that are apparently good. But in order to understand what 'apparent goods' are we must contrast them with those goods which are authentic.
Apparent good – That which merely seems good; that which satisfies some appetite or desire sufficiently to become an object of choice. But it is not the true good because it is not morally right, since it does not conform to the purpose of man as a whole.
Authentic good – (A very good definition by St. John Paul II) – “Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man's true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness.” Veritatis Splendor, §72
The reason that we must differentiate between these two in order to understand that which is truly good is because in all our choices we are always seeking the 'good'. But a problem arises in that we can err in our understanding of whether or not the thing which we pursue is authentically good. St. Thomas Aquinas, along with Aristotle before him, said that “the good is what everyone desires.” The logical consequence to this statement that we must understand is that no one deliberately chooses that which is evil. In regards to this Fr. Robert O'Donnell has this to say in his book Hooked on Philosophy,
No agent, whether animal or human, chooses evil. Only the good can motivate an agent; only the good can act as a final cause. But sometimes an agent may think something to be good which is really evil.
And thus that which he refers to as evil is an 'apparent good' to the one who chooses it. To understand this we must remember that evil is a privation of some good. The best way to explain this is through an example from St. Augustine of Hippo,
For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.
But this does not mean that evil doen't exist because we see evil all around us. What this does mean, though, is that evil is not a 'being'. To say that it is a 'being' would be to promote a dualistic understanding of the universe. To say that evil is a 'being' would be to say that good and evil have always co-existed. This is not what the Church teaches nor is it what anyone with common sense would believe. God and Satan are not two eternal but opposite beings. Instead, God is the good Creator of all things, which includes Satan. Satan, or Lucifer, was created by God as a good angel but Satan chose to turn his back on that good. Stratford Caldecott put it this way, “Though Lucifer is by nature part of the image of God's love, he refuses to assume the likeness of God's kenotic nature.” (The Radiance of Being, p.242) What this means is that even though Lucifer was created in the image of God's love (and to a greater or lesser extent so was everything else that is created) Lucifer rejected that image because it meant that he would have to give of himself to those that were lesser than he – it meant that he would have to imitate God – in short, it meant that he would have to love.
And this finally brings us back to the original question: what is love? Part of what is needed to truly understand love can be found above in reference to 'God's kenotic nature.' Kenosis is usually a reference to the 'self-emptying' of Christ referred to by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians. But here the author uses it to express the love that exists within the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally giving themselves completely to the other Persons within the Trinity. He explains this in the book much better than I have but that is the basic point. From this we can see that to love is to give oneself completely to the 'other'. And later in the book he gives a wonderful definition of what love is:
Love is that absolute freedom that binds itself absolutely.
The Radiance of Being, Stratford Caldecott, p.263
And an example of the love that personifies “the absolute freedom that binds itself absolutely” is the love between Christ and His Bride, the Church. Christ gave of Himself completely for the one He loves – the Church – and the Church in turn gives herself completely to Christ (although this won't be perfectly realized until the end of time, it is forshadowed in the perfection of the Blessed Virgin Mary who gave her perfect 'yes' to God's will for her life). And by analogy it is the love between husband and wife, who have bound themselves freely and absolutely through the Sacrament of Matrimony, which symbolizes for us the love between Christ and His Church. And from this we can see why people are so often hurt by 'love' in today's society. People pursue the apparent good of 'what feels good' without any intention of binding themselves to the 'other' in absolute freedom. To say it another way, those who are hurt in their pursuit of love have rejected the good that God intends for us and have replaced it with the lesser apparent good of temporary pleasure. But to do so will leave us, possibly eternally, dissatisfied.