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The Truth About Love

The word love gets thrown around a lot, and we often say it without really understanding what it means. I love him. God is love. I love chocolate. I love reading. We’re in love. 

According to Aristotle, to love someone is to wish good to that person. And that makes sense. If you love your siblings or your friends, you want good things to happen to them: you want them to do well in school, have fun, be healthy, find a fulfilling life purpose, and eventually get to heaven! And if you really love them, you’ll put some effort into helping get those things. You might help a friends or siblings do their homework, introduce them to good books, invite them to parties, or pray for them. 


But that doesn’t really seem to fit all the meanings of love. After all, we love chocolate too, but that doesn’t mean we want good things to happen to chocolate….unless you want to argue that being eaten is the goal of chocolate’s existence, and because you love chocolate so much you want to help it achieve its goal. There is some truth to that, I suppose. But that isn’t really what is in our minds when we think about how much we love chocolate. “I feel so sorry for that poor chocolate just sitting there, not being eaten! I want to help it.” I know my thoughts are certainly more like: “That chocolate would taste so good in my mouth.”


So let’s get philosophical. Thomas Aquinas says there are two kinds of love:

  1. the love of friendship

  2. the love of concupiscence (also called the love of desire)


In the love of friendship, we want the good for another. I want my brother to do well in school, so I help him with his homework. I want my friend to have a good time, so I invite her to my party. I want my grandma to be with God in heaven, so I pray for her soul. 

In the love of desire, we want a good for ourselves. I want chocolate because it tastes good. I want books to read. 


So what about loving other people? Aristotle says there are three kinds of friendship:

  1. the friends we have because they’re useful

  2. the friends we have because they’re pleasant

  3. and the friends we have because they are good in themselves

If we have a useful friend, that’s like saying, “I love you because you give me stuff.” That’s the love of desire: “I want things, you can give them to me, therefore I want you.” An example would be the classmate that maybe you don’t really like, but he has a pool in his backyard, and it’s summer. So you’re friends with him so he’ll invite you to his pool.

A pleasant friendship is like saying “I love you because you make my life more fun.” That’s still the love of desire, but it’s at least a little better: “I want to have fun. You are fun, therefore I want you.” An example would be the classmate who always has great ideas for activities. When she’s around everyone has fun, so you want to be around her all the time. 

The ideal third kind of friendship is more like saying, “I see that you are good in yourself. I want you to be more yourself, and I want to be good with you.” It’s the love of friendship, because not only do you appreciate the good that already exists in the person, you also want them to achieve more good. You will help them perfect the virtues you already see in them. This third kind of friend will be a person that you share deep interests and goals with. The person who you study with, and who helps you study, who prays with and for you, who encourages you to step out of your comfort zone, and who you encourage to achieve his or her ambitions. 


As Christians we are told to love everyone, even our enemies. Now this doesn’t mean that we have to like them or find them pleasant or useful. All it means is that we must actively will their good. And we won’t desire anyone to suffer, unless that suffering is directly bringing them to virtue and goodness and ultimately to God. 


Most of all we need to love our friends. Truly love them, meaning wanting the best for them. Sometimes couples who say that they are in love will commit sins together for pleasure. They are loving each other—but it’s the love of desire, the kind of love you have for chocolate, not the love of friendship. True love, the love of friendship, would lead them to encourage each other in virtue, not lead each other into sin. 


June is the month of the Sacred Heart, the month where we specially celebrate the love of God for us. He sees the good in us, the good HE put in us, and He wants there to be more of it. And so he’s given us the commandments, he’s given us his words, he died to save us from our sins, and he gives us Himself in communion, all to make us more what we should be, all because He loves us. 


About the author: Marie C. Keiser has been reading insatiably ever since she learned how, and writing almost as long. After teaching middle school for a few years and marrying one of her fellow teachers, she retired from teaching to further her plans for world domination 

. . . er, that is, to accommodate the needs of her growing family. When she's not plotting with her husband or chasing toddlers around the house, she writes from an undisclosed location surrounded by corn fields. She posts occasional essays and shares news about her books at

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