What is love?

By Tom Quiner


Which one of your kids do you love the most?

I heard this question posed to Dr. Ray Guarandi on the radio. Dr. Ray is a clinical psychologist who also has a call-in radio talk show on Catholic radio called “The Doctor is in.”

Says Dr. Ray, it is not the kid you like the best. Rather, it is the kid that gave you the most fits.

It is the kid who gave you the most sleepless nights.

It is the kid that caused you to pray the most.

In other words, it is the kid who made you give the most of yourself at oftentimes tremendous sacrifice to your comfort and mental health.

I was reminded of this exchange on Dr. Ray’s show a few weeks ago.

I attended Mass on the other side of town. During the homily, the priest posed the question in the title of this essay, “what is love?”

He discussed the cultural fad of the moment, the movie “50 Shades of Grey” which suggests that love is all about taking. If you live on another planet and don’t know what the movie is about, it’s about a guy who gets pleasure out of abusing his girlfriend.

He gets her to sign a contract allowing him to bind her and beat her for his own sick gratification. In other words, he treats her as an object to be used.

Is this love?

The priest continued. He told us how many couples have come to him over the years with failing marriages. They tell him that they have fallen out of love with their spouse, that they don’t “feel” the same anymore toward their mate.

The priest turned turn to the dramatic crucifix on the church wall and asked, “Do you think Jesus felt like doing that for you?”

The answer is self-evident.

There He hangs in agony for you and me, stripped of His dignity for all the world to see. Although modern artists add a loin cloth for the sake of discretion, Jesus most likely hung naked on the cross as another token of Roman cruelty and indignity.

The priest turned back to the congregation and asked again, “What is love? It is certainly not a feeling. It is a decision.”

We love the kid we liked the least because we are called to “love until it hurts,” as Blessed Mother of Calcutta put it. We decide to love, to give of our ourselves, even when we don’t feel like it.

Baby boomers reading this post might recall a song (and movie) titled, “Love is a many splendored thing.”

The song’s lyrics focus on feelings, the “eros” aspect of love:

“In the morning mist two lovers kissed and the world stood still,
When our fingers touch my silent heart has taught us how to sing,
Yes, true love’s a many-splendored thing.”

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that Eros love has a justice aspect to it. It’s about desiring or loving goodness in the right order, or in other words, loving virtue more than pleasure.

That is justice.

But the many splendors of love go even further. Agape love takes love to a higher level through sacrificial giving of ourselves. Aquinas tells us that agape love goes beyond justice.

It “seeks the lost sheep.”

It seeks out those who need God the most with creative power to change hearts.

Mother Teresa says it with clarity and simple eloquence:

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.”

What is love?

Sometimes it feels good, sometimes it doesn’t. But it goes beyond feelings.

Ultimately, it is a decision.

[Dr. Ray Guarandi will be speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 1st at Iowan’s for Life annual banquet.]



  1. mamaemme on March 7, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    In Hebrew, love is a verb