Christ gives us the greatest commandments in today's Gospel: "you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...and love your neighbor as yourself". In his encyclical, "God is love", Pope Benedict XVI gave us a beautiful exposition on love. He began by writing that love is the most overused word in the world. In our language, we have one word that is used for everything: we love our pets, we love movies, we love our parents. The Greeks had four words for love. "Storge" is love within families; "Philia" is love within friendship; "Eros" is passion or desire that normally led to marriage: and "Agape" is self-emptying, sacrificial love. The Church today defines love as "gift of self" which would be agape love. The former pope made the point that Greek Old Testament writers only used eros twice, and none in the New Testament. Philia was used in the New Testament by St. John in his letters to describe the friendship love between Christ and His followers. So, we can deduce that the love Christ calls us to have for God and neighbor is agape love.
In a tender, non-judgmental way, Pope Benedict examined how eros can be distorted. Passions and desires are good, and they ultimately lead us to fulfillment. For example, whenever I preach at a wedding, I ask the couple to look deep into each other's eyes, and say to them, "you are looking at your happiness...really, God's happiness for you through the other". This is all true when eros is joined with agape, meaning that our desires are fulfilled when they are used to serve another. They become distorted when they are used selfishly. The most common example of this, unfortunately, is viewing pornography. This obviously does not constitute love, but lust. It involves using others to feed our sexual desires in a selfish way. And, it doesn't lead to fulfillment. I have worked with many, many people who habitually view pornography, and they are not happy at all. It’s actually the opposite. We will never be fulfilled by pleasure only.
My favorite quote from the Pope's encyclical is, "love can be 'commanded' because it is first given. Christ commands us to love God and neighbor with agape love because He first loved us in this way. He merges eros with agape. He emptied Himself by becoming man, and showed his intense passion for our love and souls..."I thirst" (for love), He said from the Cross. The Cross is where eros (horizontal part of the Cross) and agape (vertical part) merged. Christ emptied Himself for us (horizontal) to God (vertical) in his sacrifice. He commands us to give ourselves - heart, soul, and mind - to God first and foremost. Remember what we heard last week: "give to God what belongs to God". Give him your life! Love means gift of self. Love means sacrifice. Give of yourselves to God and neighbor.
Finally, we might say that the Eucharist is the face of eros and agape love merging in our world. Christ "earnestly desired" to eat with the disciples, and He gave Himself as the food. He gives us His agape love tonight, saying to each of us, "this is my body, blood, soul, divinity, heart, and mind". In the Eucharist, He lives in us so that we can live out His command to give our body, blood, heart, soul, and mind to God and neighbor.