“Love is love”?

By: Fr. Paul Scalia

One slogan used for promoting “gay marriage” is the pithy phrase “Love is love.”  In fact, our President tweeted his praise for the recent DOMA decision with the “#Loveislove” hashtag.  It is a great piece of propaganda, because, well, who wants to fight against love? Do any of us want to be told that our love is illegitimate? So the mantra goes on and wins support for “gay marriage.” But does anyone give it any thought? Is it true? Are all loves the same? Is love love?

(photo credit: Stacy Rausch)

(photo credit: Stacy Rausch)

In one sense, Yes: love is love.  It always involves an affirmation of the other (“It is good that you exist”) and a deliberate choice for the other’s good.  For that reason we are obliged to love all people.  We must look at each person and affirm: It is good that you exist. We must say to each person, I want what is good for you.  So all embracing is this aspect of love that we must hold it both for God…and for our enemies.

In another sense, No: love is not love.  Just a little reflection reveals that not all loves are the same. Suppose a woman walks into a coffee bar and says, “I love you” to her husband, then to her children, then to a friend, and finally to the barista.  She means it differently for each person.  At least, her husband hopes so. And if a husband gets home from work and announces, “I love my secretary,” he had better intend a different kind of love than he has for his wife.  If not, he could always justify himself by saying, “Honey, love is love.”

In short, the object of our love determines its shape or structure.  We love parents differently from friends, and friends differently from spouses, and spouses differently from God. And because we are embodied souls, the body plays a part in determining the structure of our loves.  That love traditionally called eros – romantic love – seeks sexual expression, physical union. Which is to say that the shape or structure of eros is determined by the design of the body.

A husband and wife say, “I love you” to one another in a way they do not to anyone else.  Their love is different from all others because it involves a union of bodies in the very manner that bodies are designed to be united and in which only a man and woman can be united. Now, if we say that the male/female physical union is just one option among many, then we lose the distinctiveness not only of marital love but of other loves as well.  They begin to bleed into one another.  Friendship has suffered disproportionately from this blurring. Since we have extended eros to the love between two men or two women, we have experienced at one and the same time a decline in genuine friendships and also “friends with benefits.”

The need to distinguish between different loves goes beyond the marriage issue.  It is at the heart of all morality to bring one’s loves into proper order.  After all, the dissolute man has many loves.  But they are all out of order.  He loves his drink more than his kids, or his money more than his wife, or his wife more than God, and so on.  The morally upright man, however, has brought his loves into proper order.  He keeps each one in its place, where alone it thrives.

Most importantly, the Christian life requires such distinctions: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39). By His words Jesus clarifies the proper order of loves – so that we can give our hearts rightly.  By His grace He establishes this order within us, granting us the peace of a rightly ordered heart.  We would be fools to allow a mere mantra to part us from this gift.

8 thoughts on ““Love is love”?

  1. I agree ! I am not mean and I do not hate anyone and I like many, but I only love a few family and friends. It appears that many are living with the concept that it is ok to act on all human urges, saying no to none of them and taking no responsibility for any actions. Many are on drugs and alcohol searching for happiness.
    Life is really so simple, follow ten little commandments and a home is in order. Order leads to happiness. God made it easy, humans make it difficult.

  2. I am a Catholic man with same sex attraction. I lived from the ages of 21-40 as an out of the closet gay man. My family, friends, and co-workers all accepted me. After many years of dealing with gay men, I finally came to the conclusion, at around the age of 42, that living as a gay man was the wrong thing to do. I wanted to turn my life around. I turned to God for help, and He pulled me out of the messed up life I was in. I was never promiscuous, but I had fallen deeply in love (or what I thought was love) a total of three times with other men. What I learned, and observed living as a gay men, was that gay men get the concept of love and lust mixed up. When a gay man is in lust, he believes that he has fallen in love. “I’m in love.” Two gay guys meet, sparks fly, they get along great, romance ensues, and before you know it “they are in love”. What I found to be true, at least with almost every single gay man I’ve ever known in my life, is that when the fires of lust burn down and die, which they always will (it’s inevitable), the two gay men (or at least one of them) realizes he is not in love anymore. After experiencing this, and observing it, like I said, I could only come to the conclusion that what was once thought of as “love”, was really nothing more than “lust”…and the lust simply dies, and when this dies there is nothing left to keep the two partners together….no real love. And the search begins again for that magical feeling…that burning lust. This is why gay men are so promiscuous. When I was a younger gay man, I would have never admitted this, because I was too proud, and I always had grand hopes of a real loving relationship with another man, but it is the lust that glues two gay men together, and without it, there is no relationship. Hence no real love. And I believe this is why God doesn’t want two men together as romantic partners. It doesn’t work. Rarely do gay relationships last more than a couple years, and they are not fruitful…they wither and die. I am 50 now, and have been living celibate for 8 years…trying my best to live a chaste life. It is a struggle though. Please pray for me. When I die, I want to enter God’s kingdom.

  3. One factor that needs to be brought out in more detail is in regard to what Father stated in describing the exclusive love between a husband and wife. This is what can be explained to folks who do not understand the marital relationship. It has to do with the neurochemistry of sex which is described in ‘The Brain: The Owner’s Manual’ in the chapter to do with “the birds and the bees”. A monogamous couple cements their relationship by the exchange of hormones that occur during sex. A person who jumps from bed to bed loses that effect of forming a relationship of permanence. The advice given in the chapter to sexual addicts who desire happiness with a person of the opposite sex, is abstinence for a whole year in order for hormone supplies to be replenished.
    I think contraception should also be explained in regard to how it hurts a woman’s body and psyche (aggression is the third most reported symptom for women on Depo-Provera); how it pollutes our waters and how it impedes the pheromone perception of women, so that they are prone to opt for men who are genetically similar. Genetic dissimilarity between partners leads to a healthier next generation. Male testosterone levels have been falling. The cure for men is to be in the presence of ovulating women of which there may be a scarcity. View ‘What They Never Told You in Sex-Ed’ a talk by Vicki Thorn on You Tube, or listen to the CD of Dr. Janet Smith entitled ‘Contraception: Why Not? or read about the work that Dr. Lionel Tiger did with monkeys and how Depo-Provera devastated the community.
    Years after becoming pro-life and reverting to the Catholic Church I could not understand the teachings about contraception, which seemed to me to be the lesser evil than abortion. I get it now. The truth of the harm that it does was and is suppressed by the media and some in the scientific community. The Church is the only institution that can lose nothing by teaching about this. One time I attended a Church where a video message from the Bishop was shown before Mass. Couldn’t we do something like this?

  4. A lot of words that say nothing–of course the love between a man and a woman is different from the love between two men or two women. It’s just not what we call traditional love, but it can be as sincere,and as glorious as any other loving relationship. Marriage is a declaration that you love, honor, and cherish the person whom you are marrying.

  5. That we are able to distinguish and define love in different ways does not mean that each type of love is always and every time exclusive from the others. The philosophers would likely agree that the highest type of love is agape: “It is good that you exist. . . . I want what is good for you. So all embracing is this aspect of love that we must hold it both for God…and for our enemies.” Such love takes us out of ourselves and leads us to choose to do what we can for the good of the one so loved. But the other two kinds of love that are usually mentioned in any discussion about love – philos and eros – also lead us out of ourselves to another.

    Since we are body-souls, there is always some “selfishness” in the love we experience – e.g., I have satisfaction, enjoyment, pleasure in the realization that I am joined with God in my prayer and meditation or in doing an act of pure and total kindness for someone whom I know can never repay me in any way – not that I would ever look for such repayment.

    The love of friendship – philos – might not be so consciously self-giving, but one does give of oneself in any number of ways to friends: in the existence of mutual friendship, there is mutual pleasure, enjoyment of the other, sharing of interests – and all of that is natural, above-board, and expected in the give-and-take of mutual friendship. There is a kind of legitimate selfishness in friendship, too, since one enjoys being with a friend and sharing mutual interests.

    Romantic love – eros – leads one to another person perhaps for purely physical reasons, for the physical pleasure one might expect to enjoy with another person.

    The object of our love does not “determine its shape or structure.” Rather, my intention and desire determines the structure of my love for another. I might be physically attracted to another person; it is that physical attraction that first made me aware of the other person. It is possible that all I might want is a physical, pleasure-sharing relationship; but, while I am selfishly desiring bodily pleasures, I also realize that I am giving of myself to the other person. There is a kind of exchange in that limited relationship, a giving of myself to the other and a receiving of the other in that mutual and limited manner. Eros is not structured by the “design of the body.” I might have a relationship that is solely sexual; it is my desire and my purpose in befriending that “structures” eros. . . .

    None of these types of love is necessarily exclusive of the others. I am attracted physically to another person; I find goodness in her; I come to love her for the goodness I discover in her; I want to do whatever I can to make her happy. In all of that, I also find a physical attraction to her; I want to express bodily my love for her and I want to experience her love for me in that physical way of sharing our bodies – we are, after all, body-souls. If the other person was of the same gender, the quality of love can be the same. In neither case is the situation “friends with benefits;” rather it is a unique sharing of minds and bodies in an act of agape expressed physically (eros) with someone who is truly a friend (philos). Such an act is loving “your neighbor as yourself.”

    The desire of an alcoholic for drink is not a “love” of drink; it is an illness that can impede him from knowing or acting upon his love for others. A totally selfish person in his conscious awareness of his love of himself is one who is morally corrupt, lacking any kind of love.

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