Love is the basic vocation we all share. We begin with love, continue in love, and reach our fulfilment of love through, with, and in God when we die. The desire to be loved and to love, to be united with one another, is a deep-seated and natural yearning flowing from being created in Love's own image. God, whose Trinitarian being is to-be-in-relationship, invites us to a 'destiny of union with God and other(s) in self-giving love' (Coultier & Mattison III, 2010 p. 211)
A Christian understanding of love can be defined as 'seeing as God sees'. The Greek word, which is translated as 'love', in the quote from 1 Cor. 13 above is agape. The word, which appears to be used only in the Bible and appears to connote a particularly Christian conception of love, has its root in the concept of 'to prefer'. Thus, we could understand love in this sense to mean a certain kind of preference or a way of preferring. When I say I 'love' something, I am saying that I 'prefer' that something, that I have a preference for that something. If I say, 'I love sunny days' you understand that I am expressing some sort of preference or appreciation or desire for sunny days. In interpersonal terms, then, to say you love someone is to express a preference for that person. You choose to see that person in a certain way. You choose to will the good of that other person. The Christian understanding of this love, of this way of preferring is described in 1 Cor. 13:4-87. In this letter of St Paul to the early Christian community in Corinth, Paul is giving the Corinthians some advice on certain issues affecting the community. He is saying that to be an effective Christian community certain things are important. These are the things that the Christian community at Corinth should focus on and make a reality in their community. Paul argues that love is more important than any other feature of the Christian community. It is more important than all the other charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and the like. (Love is more important than even apparently heroic actions such as giving up your possessions or your life. Love is more important than all of the other virtues, even faith and hope. In the end, all that will remain is love. Love is a special kind of preferring. Paul characterizes this special way of preferring as follows: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-13). See Pope Francis' reflection on this Pauline text in Amoris Laetitia 90: 118 (2016) In the context of relationships and sexuality education this kind of love, this kind of preferring, defines how we should relate to each other at an interpersonal level as in the general notion of loving your neighbour as yourself. In particular this Pauline understanding of love can be applied to how husband and wife should relate to each other in the specific relationship between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. To illustrate how this might work, try replacing the word love in the text above with the word preferring. What this reveals is that love, in this Christian sense, is not selfish. To prefer is not to possess. Indeed, it is not really even about a 'preference' in the common English sense of something you like. Rather, it is about giving preference to the other, to the beloved. It is about concern for the flourishing, for the wholehearted living of the other, of the beloved one. When I say that I love sunny days, I do not make a claim on them, as if I control or own sunny days, as if sunny days are simply there for my pleasure. Rather, to say that I love sunny days is to be in wonder of sunny days for what they are—sunny, warm, bright. So too when we love someone in this Christian sense there is a certain unconditionality about that love. Our preference is for the person as a person, as he or she is, as the beloved, the one loved. It is about being in wonder of who that person is. In other words, love is about wanting what is good for that person. Love is about wanting that person to flourish, to realise the fullness of their humanity as made in the image of God, male or female. Love in the full sense of the word is a virtue, not just an emotion, and still less a mere excitement of the senses. The virtue is produced in the will and has at its disposal the resources of the will's spiritual potential: in other words, it is an authentic commitment of the free will of one person (the subject), resulting from the truth about another person (Wojtyla, 1981 p. 123).