There is only one “love,” whether it is love of an enemy, or love of a sweetheart. “Fundamentally, ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly.” – Deus Caritas Est
If love were merely a positive feeling, then how could we love our enemy, whom we do not even like? “Love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love.” – Deus Caritas Est
The greatest gifts that God gave us in addition to our existence are reason, free will, and the capacity to love. We were created by God out of love, by an act of creative reason, and for love. Our purpose, the reason that we are here, is to love and be loved. Does it make sense that, in that area for which we are created, love, God would deprive us of those other gifts of reason and free choice of the will?
Love is not love if it is not freely given. Love is not love if it is not the fruit of a conscious decision. Love is not a mere pleasure or sentiment. Love is a conscious, decisive choice of the other as the focus of affection, subordinating one’s self for the sake of the other. Love is a commitment of the will to the other person, with a view to that person’s good. In short, in all its aspects, love is a choice.
Love is more than just an emotional feeling, more than attraction and affection, and more than a desire for personal happiness or fulfillment. Love is a conscious act of the will to subordinate yourself, and to seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of yourself for the other’s benefit. Moreover, because you subordinate your own desires, this is a gift of full and complete unconditional love to the other, which does not concern itself with what you may or may not receive in return, although there is great joy when it is reciprocated. And such a love is secure because it does not depend upon and is not contingent upon the other person -- it only depends on you.
“The ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given [by God]. Some people object and say that love cannot be commanded, that it is ultimately a feeling which is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will. However, God has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. In God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings.” – Deus Caritas Est
So, how do you love – truly love? You make a conscious decision, an act of the will, that you will love no matter what, freely and unconditionally, that is, that you will seek the good of the other, and that you will give of yourself regardless of what the other gives or does not give back. Love is a gift of self, accepting the person who is loved as they really are, without the merits of whether or not they “deserve” to be loved. And if you feel that you do not have that power within you, ask for a little help, which we call grace, from God. And by having such a complete loving disposition, we are able to obtain a level of contentment and happiness that is permanent. It is another one of those curious paradoxes -- by sacrificing yourself, even your personal happiness and security, you gain an even greater happiness and security.
It is also something which approaches the divine. After all, mankind has given God little more than rejection and infidelity throughout history. And yet, He continues to love us, fully, completely, and unconditionally. He refuses to stop loving us, even when we torture Him and murder Him. He continues to give. And so, He truly does embody love; He truly is Love itself. If we love as He loves, we are truly secure. Thus, we most become like God, not by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, but by eating from the Tree of Love.