The morning session had gone well, the first of four the JPll Renewal Center was scheduled to give at an all-day retreat for a Catholic High School. As I headed down the hallway to a small-group break out room with a dozen sixteen year old boys I made small talk by asking them if they had one memory that stood out thus far in High School. We continued going around the room once we got settled in until everyone had a chance to answer. Then before I could turn the subject back to the morning session the boys wanted to know if I had one memory that stood out in High School. “That’s easy”, I said. “It was a while ago (to say the least) but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my first day of junior year, ten minutes before the opening bell and I was surrounded by friends. All of us were high energy, talking and laughing, excited about the new year and our upcoming football game. Then it happened, I glanced up and there she was, walking toward us. Time stood still, who was she? I could no longer hear the guys, my heart pounded…she was beautiful!”
What is this mysterious force of attraction that is so powerful that (in the particular instance above it is a long story for another time) I can still remember it as a memory that stood out among many good memories? John Paul ll called this powerful initial attraction (recognizing the good of another person; seeing their outer beauty and sensing their inner beauty) as the first of four aspects of love. But at this stage it is only the “raw material” for love and we have a long way to move from this stage to “Authentic Love”. John Paul ll went on to say that that in some instances once you experience this powerful attraction to another person it may lead to the second aspect of love, “love as desire”. In this stage, attracted to another’s inner and outer goodness and beauty, you want that “good” for yourself and desire union with the beloved. Is this love? Not yet…it is all part of the beautiful plan for authentic love, but is still the “raw material” for love and it is here that so many young people sabotage their own chance to find authentic love. They do this by sexualizing this God-given desire for the beauty and goodness in another person, “the raw material for love”, before it has had a chance to mature into authentic love, the love we all desire. Instead of finding the beauty of love (and JPll would say that “young people love the beauty of love!”), they settle instead on “using one another” and never find the banquet that God has planned for each and every one of us.
So how does one find the banquet and the beauty of authentic love? By moving toward the third and fourth aspects of love, which are respectively “Love as Goodwill”, moving from wanting a good for yourself, to willing (or desiring) the good of another for their own sake, willing their good even before your own. And finally “Spousal Love” where two persons become reciprocal self-gifts to one another. Giving themselves to one another while holding nothing back…a radical gift of self….given freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully (your wedding vows).
If you are thinking that moving from step 1 to step 4 takes work and sacrifice…bingo! It will also take prayer, perseverance and patience among others. Authentic love is worth it!! Authentic love is not only worth it, it is the whole reason that we were created! And we are not left alone! For this is not primarily our work but the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
John Paul ll said that “young people love the beauty of love,” and that “young people know that their lives have meaning to the extent that they are given away as sincere gifts to others.” You see, love is not about comfort and convenience. If we long to find the love we have been created for we must be willing to put others before ourselves.
As one husband said, “Winning this battle takes faith in Christ, dedication, commitment, honesty with ourselves and others, and a willingness to make sacrifices and deny our own selfish desires. But love is not afraid of those things; love is those things.”
By: Jack Rigert, Director of JP2 Renewal Center
(Please watch for part two of “Love is…?!” where I discuss the virtue that is the key for moving from “the raw material of love” to the “beauty of authentic love”)