Aristotle pointed out that we become virtuous by watching virtuous people.
The heroes of a culture have a huge impact on the actions of its people. It used to be that humanity’s heroes were god-humans and saints; people of great compassion, great virtue. That doesn’t always seem to be the case these days, and it is reflected in the unhappiness in our culture.
The confessional may be the best place for self-improvement. Priests don’t necessarily give extraordinary advice, but the ritual of confession provides something for which we ache.
I can’t quite put my finger on it right now, but there is something very freeing to the human being about examination of self, exposing one’s flaws to another, and being completely forgiven, but also being given a penance. I’m not quite sure of its exact essence, but I experience its beauty every time I participate in the act of confession.
While confession is one of the best ways to improve oneself, it doesn’t hurt to seek additional help elsewhere. This year, among massive piles of videos offering garbage advice and useless amusement, I found a few gems. These videos truly helped me to become a better person in 2018.
Comfort is a natural human desire. We all seek comfort at times. Sometimes we find it in material things – a good book, a soft blanket, warm soup – but we find the deepest comfort in intimate relationships – knowing that we are loved, knowing someone cares.
The greatest comfort lies in love, and the greatest form of love is called charity (for definitions of the four loves, check this article). Charity is perfect love. Charity is to give oneself completely, even if it means death, for the sake of another person, no matter what that other person has given to you (or has taken from you).
The perfect example of perfect love is Jesus Christ. He sacrificed his life, in a very painful way, so that we would not be punished for our sins. We do bad things, yet Christ gives his life so that we don’t have to suffer the consequences of those bad things. That is charity.
The greatest level of comfort lies in the fact that we are loved no matter what. Christian or not, we spend much of our lives anxiously seeking the comfort of love.
But the world can be so mean. People yelling and fighting. Anger. People killing. Sometimes love, especially perfect love, seems impossible.
Yes, Christ’s love will allow us comfort in the end, but where is the comfort in this life? Where is the comfort among sickness and war? Where is the comfort we anxiously seek?
It comes when we are served. Of course, only saints come close to giving perfect love (charity) in this life, but there are smaller levels of service too. Any level of service is also a level of death.
To serve is to die. It is a small death. When someone serves, that person is letting a part of himself – his own will, his own desire – die for the good of someone or something else.
A simple example of this is a woman who serves at a soup kitchen. Every week she gives up an afternoon – when she could be doing whatever she wants – to give food and comfort to the hungry.
To be served is a beautiful and comforting thing. We can all agree that a person can serve in small ways, but is anybody really capable of giving the deepest level of comfort? Is anybody capable of serving in such a serious, comforting, way as to die for another person? Does anybody care that much? Does anybody love that much?
Can anybody ever find that deepest comfort that we so anxiously seek – to be protected, cared for, loved?
It is scary to think that we may never experience that comfort which we long for. It is scary to think we may never be protected, cared for. But there is a scarier thought than that. That is, the idea of an entire world where no one will protect anyone. That is a horrific thought.
This world could be that place. This place could be one where nobody can sacrifice himself for another.
The only way each of us can know for sure that this is not that terrifying place is to be a person who would die for another; to be a protector, to be a giver, to be a servant.
If we cannot give ourselves for the sake of another, then we cannot expect this world to be any better than that horrible place where nobody cares about anybody else. The only way to know that we are not in a world of self-centered, lonely people is to be a servant.
There is no way to know if we can give our lives for another person. We cannot know what we would do if such a situation arose. We cannot know if we could sacrifice our lives – suffering pain and loss – for another person. We can presume, but we cannot know unless it happens.
However, we can know that if we can’t even give a kind word, if we can’t even sacrifice an hour per day or our own comfort for another person, then we certainly could not die for another person.
So, if we want this world to be better than that horrible place where everybody is selfish, alone, and uncared for, where nobody is comforted, we must make it our mission to be a light in a dark place; to make sure it is not a dark place. If we want this world to be a place where the comfort of love exists, our mission must be to serve. Only by serving – giving, protecting, helping, comforting – can we know that this is a world where such a thing is possible. Only by serving can we know that this is not a horrible place where comfort is non-existent.
When I was in middle school, I learned what it felt like to “be in love” with a girl – the butterflies, the flying butter, the pounding heart, the longing desire. I knew damn well what it felt like. For the most part, it felt good. It felt like something beautiful was mine, and it felt like I was something beautiful to have. It felt bad when I went away for the weekend instead of seeing the girl I “loved.” I felt a crazy feeling of missing her. She was all I could think about.
That’s me on the left, rocking out to the fire of teen angst fueled by the question, “what is love?”
A couple weeks later, some guys at school made fun of me for dating the girl because she was two years younger than me, so I broke it off. In my eleven-year-old mind, that made sense. In my pre-adolescent, hormone-plagued rationality, dumping her was easy.
Throughout high school and my first couple years of college, I fell in and out of “love” many more times. Some of the love drove me crazy, some of it opened my eyes, and some rocked my world. All of it left me asking the age-old question, “what is love?”
I knew how it felt to be in love, or I thought I did. I knew that love made people do wild and wonderful things in some of my favorite movies – in high school those were Road Trip, Garden State, and The Wedding Singer. And I knew that some of my favorite songs perfectly captured how I was feeling – like these Blink-182 lyrics:
“And when I feel like giving up, like my world is falling down, I show up at 3 A.M., she’s still up watching Vacation, And I see her pretty face, it takes me away to a better place”
But I also heard things like, “true love lasts forever,” and the famous definition of love from Paul the Apostle:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
That sounds incredible, but I found myself asking, “if love ‘lasts forever’ and ‘always perseveres,’ what about all the girls I am no longer in love with?”
From that first time in middle school until my senior year of college, I asked a million times “what is love?” I didn’t find a good answer until my senior year of college.
I took a class called Interpersonal Communications. I was assigned a book titled “The Four Loves” by C.S. Lewis. In that book, C.S. Lewis answers that mysterious question.
It turns out there is not just love. There are four different types of love. There is the love described in the songs I listened to, called eros, and there is the love describe by Paul the Apostle, called charity, and there are two others.
The first love described by Lewis is affection. Affection is the love of family members. They love each other because they know each other so deeply. A child’s love for his grandmother is a good example of affection. Affection comes from familiarity, not from a common interest.
The second love described by Lewis, friendship, comes from a common interest. Think about why you became friends with someone. You both enjoyed the same sport, or you both liked the same movies. Friendship grew out of that bond.
The third love described by Lewis is eros. That is the one we see in the romance movies and hear about in all the sappy love songs.
Finally, there is the fourth love described by Lewis, charity. Lewis calls this the greatest of the four loves, and for good reason. It is the love of God. It is perfect love. Charity is the love of willfully dying for someone who hates you. It is a complete giving of self. It is the love described by Paul the Apostle.
Of course, these four loves have intricacies that I have not even scratched, and they intertwine together in various ways. C.S. Lewis does a phenomenal job of answering every question you might have related to the big question, “what is love?” He does a phenomenal job at analyzing and explaining every aspect of love.
“The Four Loves” changed my life, blew my mind, and tore down a million misconceptions I had about love. It set me on the path to genuine relationships, to true love. I have shared its basic concepts with you here so that you may start on the path as well, and so that you never need to scratch your head at the question, “what is love,” again.