In four verses from the fourth chapter of St. John’s First Letter, we hear the word “love” nine times. We use that word in so many different ways. As an example, consider these four statements:
1. I am head over heels in love with my wife.
2. I love my children.
3. I love my best friend.
4. I love my neighbor as myself.
Though the English word in these four statements is always the same, I am sure that it is evident to all of you that the sentiment in each of the four statements is different. In fact, it is fairly certain that the meaning of the word “love” in each sentence is dependent upon the person who is the object of that love.
If we read St. John’s Letter in the original Greek, we would have heard the word “agape” nine times. “Agape” can best be defined as love, affection, good will, love, and benevolence for the other. “Agape” is used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for his children. This type of love was further explained by Thomas Aquinas as "to will the good of another. Another quality of “agape” is fidelity. Whereas the love of a spouse might begin as “eros,” with the passage of time, it can develop into “agape.”
Once we set aside the romantic connotations that are often connected to the word “love” in English, we can come to a better understanding of what St. John is asking of the community in this letter. Faithful and unconditional love is our goal. We strive for this kind of love realizing that it is a life-time struggle. Once again we can understand that we are called to “remain” or “abide” in Christ through our allegiance to his Church, to his community, to all of his brothers and sisters.
In the Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowds. This action is “agape” at its best – good will and benevolence for others that leads to sharing the little they had with the group. It is this kind of love that we celebrate in the Eucharist, a love that remains and abides, a love that share life itself.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator