Well the Grammys aired Sunday night to the usual cacophonous diatribe of vacuous self-worship. But this year had a new kind of rotten show for us to digest: a mass ‘wedding’ ceremony of Oprah-size proportions (You get a marriage! You get a marriage! Everyone gets a marriage!). Has an orgy of weddings ever been shown on TV before? It has now. It’s been said that we live in a post-Christian society; surviving on the expiring fumes of a culture that once sprung forth from the fecundity of the Gospel. Sunday was a rather jarring reminder that those fumes are thinning quickly.
Just as the water beneath the surface reveals much more about the actual action on the surface itself, so it is with human events – there is a lot going on in the background. Sunday’s display was no different. As Queen Latifah legislated over the assembly line style ‘ceremony,’ slithering in the background was the crested hymn of all the festivities: Macklemore’s ‘Same Love.’ The title of this song is the perfect place to start to understand all this surface-level confusion.
What is love?
This question should be talked about more. It is perhaps the most important question that exists. And the definition of its subject is perhaps the most important definition that exists. Where should we start? Let’s start where ‘Same Love’ ends: 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
Everyone recognizes this passage, but unfortunately, the middle of it is often forgotten. Yes, we all know love is ‘patient’ and ‘kind’ (incidentally, as an aside, this does not mean anything flaccid like ‘nice’) and not ‘jealous,’ ‘boastful,’ or ‘rude.’ We should never forget that they are part of the profile of love. But we often forget that St. Paul tells us love ‘does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right.’ What exactly does that mean?
Jesus says something similar in John’s Gospel when he tells his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15.) How does this help us know what love is? It can start by showing us that love involves action, it involves doing something. And why does one do anything? Well, because it’s good to do. Well, why is anything good? Because it’s true. It is an affirmation of being. It is in accord with reality, with “what is”, with the way things really are. So, Jesus is essentially saying here, “If you love me, you will act according to the Truth of what I have revealed.”
Similarly, St. Paul is saying, in 1 Corinthians 13, that love will only ‘rejoice’ in that which is in accord with Truth, with reality. Why? Because love seeks, wills and works towards what is good for the other – and it cannot be good for someone to be acting outside of reality, to be moving towards nothingness. How could love ‘rejoice’ in that? Thus, love is always motivated by a desire for human flourishing and freedom. And, in order to attain those, we must be willing the “other” to be in right accord with reality. How could love do anything different?
In the midst of this discussion a principle is rising like cream to the top (one that is so very foreign to our culture that it rushes upon us like a fresh breeze):
There is no Love without the Truth.
If we lose our ability to see the Truth, we lose our ability to love (regardless of our good intentions).
Now, there are many kinds of love (filial, fraternal, affectionate, etc.), but the subject of ‘Same Love’ is particularly sexual love. So the question then is, “What is the truth about sexual love?” Tomes of beautiful words have been written on this; but, to deal with the topic only briefly here, it seems safe to assert that sexual love is the love in which persons unite most comprehensively and through which babies are made. Another way to say this is that sexual love is both unitive and procreative. Then, what is simply given to us as fact about how human beings can both completely unite (meaning especially bodily unite) and produce offspring?
It would seem written into our very bodies that this can only occur between one man and one woman. To act on the contrary is simply to deny the truth practically screaming at us and, as a result, simply cannot ever lead to human flourishing. So then, however good the intentions are, to act in a way contrary to what is good for someone cannot be love.
A brilliant illustration of this is found in St. Francis. Many people across all kinds of dividing lines admire St. Francis as a man of great love. Most aren’t familiar with a phrase St. Francis unceasingly lifted up in prayer:
O Lord, show me – Who are You; and who am I?
In so many words, St. Francis asked for nothing but the Truth: the truth of who God is and the truth of who Francis was as his disciple. ‘Lord, let me see things as they really are.’ And it is precisely that which freed him to love so ardently. The truth set him free – free to love.
So, what is love? Love is found in Truth. The Truth of ‘what is’ and the Truth of what is ultimately good and life-giving for each and every one of us.