Love as a Theological Virtue

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

Once more, it is Lenten Season. It is that time of the year when we engage ourselves in sober reflections as we evaluate our journeys so far towards heaven which is our goal. It is the time when we refocus on what scholars call the three pillar of an ideal religion: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is also a retreat period when we re-strategize our path to God.

In his Lenten message this year, Pope Francis makes a clarion call to his over two billion Catholics on the need to imitate God who is steadfast in loving His creatures. He draws our attention to a disturbing trend he calls the "globalization of indifference" which is a current circumstance across the world where people feel helpless in the face of the suffering of others, and actually end up doing nothing to alleviate such hardships.

He challenges us never to be indifferent when we see others suffer. Going further, Pope Francis outlines steps towards an evangelical Christian witnessing in love to our neighbours.

The invitation Pope Francis gives us to Christian charity is enshrined on the fact that God loved us first, and gave us the commandment to love Him, and to love one another (1 John 4: 19; John 13: 34-35). In our discussion of love as an emotion last week, we pointed out our natural symbiotic behavioural act to love and to be loved.

According to the teaching of the Church, love as a theological virtue inheres from the fact that God who gave us this natural ability to love and to be loved, instilled in us the divine inclination to love Him above every other person or good (Mark 12: 30-31; Matthew 22: 36-40).

The love of God above all goods is infused into our hearts by the action of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5: 5). We reenact this infusion of love by the Holy Spirit each time we invoke Him in prayer - for instance, the "come Oh Holy Ghost". This infusion inspires us to go beyond our natural inclination to love. Our natural inclination to love seeks to love and to be loved. In other words, if you love God, God should also love us back.

But this infusion inclines us to love God as the Absolute Good for our souls. In which case, our love of God, and His attributes, and our love of the things of God, and our love of our neighbours as ourselves or as Christ has loved us might not seek any return love.

Our natural love as emotion makes us not only to expect a love back from others when we express love to them, but to love only those who love us. Naturally, it is difficult to love those who do not love us. But Jesus asks us "if you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?" (Luke 6: 32; Matthew 5: 46). As Christians, we are called to love God above all else. We are called to love others without seeking to be loved. What is more, there is no better time to grow in this virtue of love than the Lenten Season.

This Holy Season of Lent, choose something proactive by choosing to love without seeking to be loved back. We should not expect return match in love. This Holy Season of Lent, choose to love without counting the cost of your love. Jesus who is the Reason for the Season did not count the cost when He hung on the cross. Let us go love our God above all else, and love our neighbours as ourselves!

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