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Vive La Différence Between Charity And Emotions Of Love!

Salvador Dali. The Christ of St. John of the Cross.
(Salvador Dali. The Christ of St. John of the Cross. Source)

1) Introduction

We often hear in movies, in the media, and in the conversations of couples who are getting divorced, that "something has changed", that "before we loved each other, but now we don't love each other anymore", that "things are not like they used to be", etc.

Is this true? Can love "go away" like that, despite us, after we've "fallen into it", once again despite ourselves?

2) True love is the result of a conscious and free decision

Imagine someone who would say: "Before I used to be sitting down, but now I don't know why, I've changed, I'm standing up. I can't do anything about it, I'm no longer sitting down". That would be really ridiculous! But that is exactly what people say when they claim they "don't love" their spouse anymore. True love isn't the same thing as an emotion, a physical attraction.

Love is the decision, conscious and free, to will the good of someone. That's why we can love, even when the other person isn't attractive. That's why Mother Theresa of Calcutta could love people who were dirty, old, ugly, covered with sores and germs. That's why we can swear before God and Society that we are going to love our spouse, until death do us part, without even knowing in advance the severity of the storms that will fall upon our couple.

3) Captative love, oblative love

An old distinction, which is still very serviceable today, is the distinction between captative love and oblative love. Captative love (from the Latin "captare": to seize, to grab) destroys the other for our own pleasure. As one of my favorite Philosophy teachers used to say, the more we "love" a jar of peanut butter, the more that gives us pleasure, and the more that destroys the peanut butter. When we've finished "loving" the jar of peanut butter, it's completely empty, depleted, destroyed. We then have to change jars, and "love" another one!

Oblative love (from the Latin "oblativus": who offers himself), is of course the opposite of captative love. The person who loves is willing to sacrifice himself, for the good of the other. For example, when the Tchernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine broke down and started spewing deadly radiations, it was necessary to build a concrete containment structure to stop those radiations. Obviously, the workers who were going to build this structure were going to die quickly, because of the deadly levels of radiation. Nevertheless, there were volunteers. The containment structure was built, and the surrounding populations were saved, and the workers who built it died of radiation sickness. We could give many more examples, like that Italian judge who resisted the Mafia, and who decided to love Justice more than his own life, and who refused to acquit the Mafia men, before being gunned down by them.

4) How can we detect captative love?

In a way, it's hard to avoid captative love, because it can slip into just about anything. For example, a Christian can give money to the poor (which is in itself a very nice deed), but do it so that people will admire him, and not to help the poor. Another example is the politician who "listens to the people" and tells them what they want to hear, but only to get himself elected in order to bask in the power, money and prestige of his position. A third example is the heman who tells a woman he wants to be her "knight in shining armor", that he will remain chaste and pure and that he will wait as long as necessary. In itself, that is a good deed, but unfortunately if this man's intention is not rectified, then in fact he could just be "laying a trap" to try to attract this woman, in order to be able to use her.

How can we avoid captative love? We at least have to know it exists, and that it can contaminate anything we do. The ultimate proof that someone loves us with oblative love, is when this person takes nothing for themselves, but on the contrary gives their life for us. Christ, who died on a cross to redeem us from our sins, is the best example of this love. On the other hand, a coffin doesn't give much money to the poor, it can't take good political decisions and, obviously, it isn't very satisfying in bed!

We therefore have to find "mini-crucifixions", to see if the person who claims to "love" us is serious, if this person is ready to "bear their cross", or if on the other hand he wants to "love" himself in a selfish and captative way. For example, if we require anonymous donations, people will find it harder to just donate for the publicity it gives them. For politicians, there are plenty of opportunities to tell the people things that are true, necessary, and unpleasant. For fiancées, the requirement for sexual continence before marriage is one of those tests. The idea of "the ring before the bed" is excellent, and for several reasons. One of them is precisely because it helps discern the true intention of the fiancée.

5) Conclusion

My stomach starts and stops digesting without my permission. It's a human stomach, but its activity is not properly human. My emotions of love also start and stop attracting me toward women, without my permission. But my "heart" in the figurative sense is totally human. It starts and stops to love when I decide so, freely and consciously.

If marriage was based on emotions of love and physical attractions, then the Catholic Church would be crazy to refuse divorce, to refuse to admit that couples can "fail". But the Church isn't crazy. It's society that has lost sight of the true notion of love. It's because we can rise above material and psychological bondages, that we are free to truly love.

Vive la différence!

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