Spirituality for Today – February 2010 – Volume 14, Issue 7

Recognizing True Love

By Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, D.Min.

The young man was madly in love. He was sure that no other man had ever loved any other woman the way he loved this woman. She was on his mind day and night.

A photo of two people holding hands

Seldom did a day go by that he did not see her. Rarely did an hour go by that he did not think of her. After an exciting courtship. they got married. Five years later, they were divorced.

What the man thought was true love and what the woman hoped was true love, was really just infatuation. After marriage, the "new" wore off rather quickly. It turned out that they did not even like each other. Is it possible to avoid that kind of sadness? How does one recognize true love?

This question comes up in other areas besides romance. In parent-child relationships, for example, I have seen mothers who were utterly devoted to their children, or so it seemed.

They thought or spoke of little else. Everything revolved around those babies. But as time passed, this obsession began to wear thin. It would become more and more apparent that the mother was not so much loving her children as dominating them. She was trying to relive her life through them.

It is a familiar scene. What the mother is calling love is really just control and manipulation. With so many counterfeits on the market, how does a person recognize true love?

There is a gospel reading that gives us some insight into that question. It says: "God so loved the world that He gave"|" If that is what love means to God, perhaps it is what true love also means to us. Its first impulse and its highest joy is to give. This, of course, does not mean that true love never needs, or wants or receives; that would be unrealistic. No one, not even God, can give all the time without ever receiving.

Picture a marriage in which the husband does all the giving and none of the taking. His heart is never broken, so he does not need to be comforted. He never gets sick, so he does not need to be pampered. He is never down, so he does not need to be encouraged. He is confident of himself and never needs to be loved. That kind of husband would be far from the ideal. It would not be easy to live with him.

Love is always a two-way street. It is a mutual process of giving and receiving. This is even true with God.

One philosopher spoke of God as "Unmoved mover." That is to say, God is unaffected by all things. He does all of the moving and nothing ever moves Him.

Philosophically, that may be a reasonable concept of God. He is complete within Himself. He has no needs at all.

But that is not the God of the Bible. The One whom we meet there needs to be loved and longs to be trusted. The prophet Hosea overheard God saying: "How can I give you up, o Ephraim? How can I let you go, O Israel?" Every time we read these lines we can imagine a tear coming down the cheek of God.

Yet the primary direction of true love is outward, not inward. If we keep that in mind, it can help us distinguish the real thing from the phony.

One of the oldest lines in the world is when a young man says to a young woman "I love you, and if you love me you will give me your body."

There is a fundamental flaw. The love that needs to be called into question is that of the young man. The number one thought on his mind is not giving, but receiving. He is saying, "I love you." But his real meaning is, "I love me, and I want to use you for my pleasure."

True love is not hard to recognize. Its first impulse and its highest joy is to give. When a young man truly loves a young lady you can always tell. He gives her respect. He gives her trust. He gives her himself.

When parents truly love their children you can see it. They give them security when they are little. As they get older, they slowly give them more and more freedom.

Someone has said: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is truly yours. If it does not, it was never yours in the first place."

So let us remember that: "God so loved the world that He gave!"