Love, Hatred, Charity, Lies, Agape, Eros, and Philos

The following is a talk that I gave to define Caritas, one of the principle values of Augustinian schools.  With the help of Augustine and Eminem.

I can’t tell you what it really is I can only tell you what it feels like and right now it’s a steel knife in my windpipe I can’t breathe but I still fight while I can fight as long as the wrong feels right it’s like I’m in flight High off of love, drunk from my hate, It’s like I’m huffing pain and I love it the more I suffer, I suffocate and right before I’m about to drown, she resuscitates me she EXPLICIT hates me and I love it.

One of the most popular, morbid, and overplayed songs I hear on the radio is Eminem and Rihanna’s song “I Love the Way You Lie.”  It is both Hypnotic and Repulsive at the same time, and that is the strange disgusting “beauty” of the whole song.  Although, I am not a fan of Eminem (not due to his vulgarity, more due to his childish whining and complaining about all the suffering he goes through), This song strikes me.  I think the real reason that it is so popular is that people can relate to it, and that is the scary thing.  Broken Hearts, and the hatred and pain and wrath that ensues after break ups, and like dogs that return to their vomit, so do broken hearted people seem to return foolishly to the person they love to hate.

At the same time a lot of people my age are already completely cynical and pessimistic when it comes to love.  I think, on average my peers actually think that Love is overrated; Love is a farce; Love is not even a real thing; Love and pain are the same; Love and hate are the same thing.  There are no definitions of Love that seem to mean anything to my cynical and disappointed generation.  So I cannot even speak on love without acknowledging this brokenness.

And so I stumbled upon another quote that bore resemblance to a quote:

Meanwhile my sins were multiplied.  She with whom I had lived so long was torn from my side as a hindrance to my forthcoming marriage.  My heart which she held her very dear was broken and wounded and shed blood.  She went back to Africa, swearing that she would never know another man, and left with me the natural son I had had of her.  But I in my unhappiness could not, for all my manhood, imitate her resolve.  I was unable to bear the delay of two years which must pass before I was to get the girl I had asked for in marriage.  In fact it was not really marriage that I wanted.  I was simply a slave to lust.  So I took another woman, not of course as a wife; and thus my soul’s disease was nourished and kept alive as vigorously as ever, indeed worse then ever, that it might reach the realm of matrimony in the company of its ancient habit.  Nor was the wound healed that had been made by the cutting off of my former mistress.  For there was first burning and bitter grief; and after that it festered, and as the pain grew duller it only grew more hopeless.

To the surprise of most people, that was from St. Augustine’s Confessions.  He, like Eminem, seems to have no difficulty expressing the difficulties that come with Love.  Yet he does not end there:

Praise be to You, glory to You, O Fountain of mercies.  I became more wretched and You more close to me.  Your right hand was ready to pluck me from the mire and wash me clean, though I knew it not.

Augustine’s faith was, of course fortified by God’s grace, as well as a strong hope and faith, particularly when he reflected on that.  Eminem, unfortunately has no claim on those things.  Yet, for this experience.  I find Augustine one of the most credible witnesses of Love out of everyone out there.  He spends a lot of time talking about it, and he was well informed, obviously.

In fact, one of his most beautiful prayers follows as such:

Late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved You! For behold You were within me, and I outside; and I sought You outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that You have made.  You were with me and I was not with You.  I was kept from You by those things, yet had they not been in You, they would not have been at all.  You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness: and You sent forth Your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness: You breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now pant for You; I tasted You, and now hunger and thirst for You: You touched me and I have burned for Your peace.

Our English language fails to capture some of the intricacies of love.  Those very important distinctions are important, and Augustine would have understood many of those.  Most of those distinctions, I believe, lead to several confusions over love, that result in very morbid and painful songs like Eminem’s, as well as the morbid and painful experiences that have resulted in a cynical and pessimistic generation.

For instance we often say “I love pizza,” and “I love you mom,” and hopefully, for the sake of our mothers, we do not mean the same thing.  Or “I love my dog,” and “I love my boyfriend/girlfriend.”  Hopefully we mean something different, or you might get dumped.  No wonder so many people like Eminem are pessimistic and confused, we throw it around like it’s a dirty old tennis ball.  If we could see it for the pearl it really is, we might be more cautious.

The three terms that are often used are actually common Greek terms, the kinds that Augustine would have been familiar with, and were frequently employed by the Church Fathers to discuss love.  The three terms were Eros, Philos, and Agape.

Eros refers specifically to the feelings of captivation and desire directed to someone.  Love at first sight usually refers to this.  Sometimes at the worst level, it is infatuation, refusing to see the whole person.   It can hide behind so many masks and be contaminated with lust, that no wonder people get confused.  At its best, it’s the bond between spouses.  Even Augustine, in my quote earlier, prays to God in an erotic and sensuous way, and that is not uncommon among the Saints.

Philos refers to the family love.  We just care about our family and friends, and long to tell about our days to them.  We think of them when they are away, and look forward to meeting with them again.  We want their text messages and Facebook comments.

Agape refers to perfect selfless love.  The sublime example of this would be Christ on the Cross.  I heard a story recently about a father who died to save his son from drowning.  Agape love is that love that puts the other first, and many spouses have learned that in order to have a happy marriage they need to bring some Agape, and not just focus on the Eros.

For us, we can consider all of these things, as they were certainly relevant in all of Augustine’s writings.  Augustine, in his catechism,  would then move on to define love in the four stages of humanity in relation to God.  In the beginning we are savages without law, then we become fearful servants under the law.  The spirit then moves us to act out of a purified Charity.  We are concerned with our neighbors and strangers, not for our own benefit, and we serve God without timidity.  The Final stage, is the perfect peace of love in heaven.  For Augustine, we cannot even begin to love without the spirit of God leading us.

At some point, we begin to learn that charity is not pity.  We don’t give out of pity, because we are good and better, and this other person is needy.  We learn to see that this person, and I are the same.  And we ask, why it is that I have so much, and they have little.  We feel scandalized by our abundance, or simply moved to equalize that imbalance, without looking down at the other, but eye to eye.  This kind of purified Charity, moved by the Spirit, that sees God in every other person, this is the kind of Charity we need to learn how to have.

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The Feast of the Presentation, Gratitude & Rest

We remember that the Lord said himself, I am the way. And just now when the gospel was read, we heard how the old man, the blessed Simeon, had received a divine response that he would not taste death unless he had first seen the Christ of the Lord. When he took the infant Christ in his arms, and recognized how great this little one was, Now Lord, he said, you are letting your servant go, according to your word, in peace, since my eyes have seen your salvation.

So let us proclaim the good news of the day from day, his salvation; let us proclaim among the nations his glory, among all the peoples his wonders. He lies in a manger, but he holds the whole world in his hands; he sucks his mother’s breats, but feeds the angels; he is swaddled in rags, but clothes us in immortality; he is suckled, but also worshipped; he could find no room in the inn, but makes a temple for himself in the hearts of believers. It was in order, you see, that weakness might become strong, that strength became weak. Let us therefore rather wonder at than make light of his birth in the flesh, and there recognize the lowliness on our behalf of such loftiness. From there let us kindle charity in ourselves, in order to attain to his eternity.

Augustine Sermon 190, 4

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, When Mary and Joseph brought their son, our Lord Jesus into the Temple, according to custom, to make an offering for their son. The event is described in the Gospel reading of today. (Luke 2:22-40).

The history and origin of the custom is spelled out in Exodus 13: “Consecrate to me every first-born… for it belongs to me… you shall dedicate to the Lord every son that opens the womb; and all the male firstlings shall belong to the Lord. If your son should ask later on, ‘what does this mean?’ you shall tell him, ‘ with a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, that place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, every first-born in the land of Egypt, every first-born of man and of beat. That is why I sacrifice to the Lord everything of the male sex that opens the womb, and why I redeem every first-born of my sons.”

I can gather a commonality of two themes from this feast: Gratitude and Rest.

Gratitude is a tough topic to think about during an economic crisis, and financial instability. The Israelites came out of Egypt, and were faced with much instability, over the insecurity of their future. Would they find the rest they longed for? Many of them returned to their former ways, perhaps searching for a perverted continuity with their Egyptian prison. They did escape with their lives, but they also escape with some security of their legacy, when their first born sons survived the passing over of the Spirit of God.

I could also imagine the elder Israelites telling the young men, how easy they have it, after all, they do not have to worry about the spirit of God coming through and wiping out their children do they? When you fend for the very essentials of life, you have to begin being grateful for what you have. When the deception of consumerism drives us to buy more, and have more. Sometimes its as if consumerism is the new mystery religion, that promises initiation into esoteric knowledge, if we purchase the appropriate product. Perhaps, we get convinced that we will dwell in ecstacy with the right product, while blinding ourselves to the joys that surround us. For those of us who have children, that is something amazing to be grateful for, children are a blessing, and hopefully we have the courage to acknowledge that. Our own lives are a blessing, and let us be brave with hope, to live a life without regret, in accord with the plan that God has for us.

I think, in the deepest sense, its easier for us to be grateful when we have a moment of rest. Conversely, sometimes its easier for us to get lazier and more ungrateful when we have a moment of rest, at least I know it is true of me. The trouble is, with gratitude, we have to train ourselves to be grateful. We have to force ourselves to sit and reflect, despite the business. If we do not fight the urge to constantly work, we cannot experience the joy and freedom to give thanks without cease. Gratitude does not just magically come to us, it is a grace, that we must cooperate with. It is there that we will find rest.

Now, if we could only have a little more faith like Simeon, faith of seeing the work of the Lord with our own eyes, and touching it with out own hands. We can die without regret, and live the rest of our lives with gratitude and satisfaction. We are guaranteed death, and Simeon I am sure was aware of it. He could have the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord was working. HOWEVER, Simeon, had to look deeper. Our Lord did not appear with all sorts of special effects, smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles. Jesus did not show up with a theme song, an intro credits. Simeon would not have experienced the rest and gratitude if he did not open himself to the impossible. Security, stability? Sound impossible? I dare you to take a leap of faith, and see the freedom that happens as a result.