People often talk about God as Love, yet they often associate love with feelings, meaning they believe that love makes them feel good, not that love involves willing what is best for another person.

Love is not feelings. Something can give a person good feelings that is not good for his or her completion as a person. Love, therefore, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, involves willing the good of the other.

To say that love involves willing the good of the other is not to say that love is always pleasurable. The good that is willed may not be pleasurable. Sometimes the good entails pain and suffering in this life. Consider the Cross of Christ. There is no new life without death to an old life. For example, a person cannot become a full-time medical student if he or she does not possess the science background needed to understand the beginning medical school courses. A person who wishes to go to medical school must first go through the pain and suffering of killing his or her ignorance to scientific subjects and develop the necessary habits for scientific knowledge required for use in medical school. Current medical students have already died to their ignorance and risen to a new life in the possession of the scientific habits necessary to relate to medical science.

Pre-med students who die to their ignorance in order to rise to this new life are becoming one with what they love. St. John of the Cross explains this process of becoming one with what is loved as an equalization—meeting a match—of the lover and the beloved.

Consider what St. John of the Cross says is done to people by that which they are fond for and grasping on to. He says,

So we can better prove what is said, it is from knowing that the fondness and grasp that the soul has to a creature brings equalization to the same soul with the creature, and the greater the fondness, so much more the equalization and making similar, because love makes similarity between the lover and what is loved. 1

St. John of the Cross then quotes Psalm 115:8 as evidence that you serve whatever you love:

Similies illis fiant qui faciunt ea, et omnes qui confidunt in eis, (which means: “Be similar to them whosoever put his or her heart in them.”)2 And like this, the one who loves a creature, it stays as low as that creature, and, in some manner, more low (emphasis added); because love is not only equalization, but even more fastens the lover to what he or she loves.3

Now you can see clearly what St. John of the Cross means when he talks about love. Love has two aspects: first, love has fondness and a holding power to what is loved, which begets a similarity between loved and beloved as a kind of equalization; second, this love of a person brings the person lower than what is loved because love takes hold of the person and subjects the lover to what is loved.

Thus, the lover’s grasp and fondness ends up serving the beloved in that the grasp of the beloved keeps the lover subdued as long as love exists between the person and what is loved.

Now, if a person considers love to be feelings and freely loves what makes the person feel good, there is a danger for the person-as-lover. That person will easily subject him or herself to things the person probably should not, and then that thing has a hold on the person.

The virtue of prudence (right reason about things to be done) will help a person know when someone or something is worth loving—that is, the potential beloved wills the good of the person in a full, complete way. Christians know that Jesus Christ is Love Itself and that God sent Him for their sake. The Gospel of John describes the lowering and rising of Christ, who subjected himself to his beloved:

καὶ καθὼς Μωϋσῆς ὕψωσεν τὸν ὄφιν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν Υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ΄ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. (And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, in this manner it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up so that everyone believing in Him, may have eternal life. For in this manner God loves the world, thus therefore he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone believing in Him shall not be utterly destroyed, but shall have eternal life.)4

Through this subjection, Christ offers everyone the opportunity for equalization, or becoming one with him. The opportunity is offered, but it is up to each individual person to respond by accepting or rejecting the gift of Christ. To accept Christ and become one with him, lower yourself and serve Christ as he is already lowering himself and serving you.

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  1. St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 1, Ch. 4, § 3, translation by Andrew Gniadek ↩︎

  2. Note that St. John of the Cross here is a bit free with his translation to make his point. He is not wrong in his translation, but it is not as literal as it could be, in my opinion, from the Latin which he is quoting. All that being said, I wholeheartedly prefer his translation to a more literal one. ↩︎

  3. St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 1, Ch. 4, § 3, translation by Andrew Gniadek ↩︎

  4. See Jn 3:15-16. All translations of Greek are my own. ↩︎