We know that love is not a feeling. Many will tell you love is an act of the will. That is true as far as it goes, but to leave it at that is to neglect an important part of the story.
Love is not merely some good we try to achieve or preserve through action, like life, knowledge, or friendship. Love is a unique gift from God to us, transmitted as the signal of the intention for the well-being of another. Owing to its relationality, it is the most eminent participation in God’s Trinitarian nature possible for us. Love begins in God, who reaches out to creatures, and they, moved by His love, participate in that love.
How many times have you said, or heard someone say: “I have to show more love,” with the emphasis on the “I.” But what do you mean by “love”? Of course, you are not going to give a philosophical explanation every time you use the word “love”; but we have to teach what love is with more accuracy. We lack precision in proposing the Christian understanding of love.
Eager to fight evil and avoid relativism, the Christian is tempted to do good because it is right. But the doing of good should always be out of love; love is assimilated to the doing of good. But it is important not to conflate love and doing good. Whereas sentimentalism trivializes love into an emotion, this sort of Kantian voluntarism doesn’t even call us to love.
When Christ comes and announces that God is Love, everything changes. Christians cannot forget this. Our love always depends on Him. It resides in the Trinity (God as lover, beloved, and loving relation) and is gifted to us. As St. Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Laws that govern human action speak indirectly to the conveyance of love, insofar as they are like the signposts we follow to pursue goods. It is through the exchange of goods that we convey love.
No one seriously thinks that we can live without laws. The question, of course, is which laws to follow and whether to obey them all the time. Our Lord said: “Do not think that I have come to set aside the law and the prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection” (Matthew 5:17). How does He perfect the law?
Love gives us the most purposeful and ennobling reason to fulfill the law. We need the law because love differentiates and law equalizes. Love is a gift to someone, and though it is never unjust, it is not evenly distributed. But law aims to uproot privilege and promote justice, which everyone deserves. Laws delineate the path to follow in our pursuit of a good, be it our own good or the good of the community.
We know that we as individuals sin, make mistakes, and have our own agendas. Never more than today, the Catholic Church faces enormous pressure to loosen sexual norms in response to suffering, because we are more aware of suffering than ever before.
We must relieve suffering, but to what degree? We know that suffering is integral to the life of the Christian. Christ tells us to take care of the poor, but He also tells us “For you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11). Suffering is also an opportunity for growth in virtue and to love others. How then, shall we fight poverty?
Poverty—and the consequent suffering that it brings—has different causes.
There is the material kind of poverty, which is primarily caused by abuses of power or deficiencies in access to the markets that produce goods and services. People lack opportunity.
Then there is the poverty that—though it may have a material component—is primarily caused by family breakdown: mothers left alone by their partners to raise children, the elderly with no one to look after them, children abandoned by parents, and so on.
The first has to do with failures in the free-market system; the second has to do with the sexual revolution. Both can be ameliorated by love, but not entirely, nor in the same way.
Progress has been made in the eradication of material poverty, as Arthur Brooks has so clearly presented. One may quibble with the exact numbers, but economists of development agree that material poverty has been reduced on the whole, and the causes are known.
But the poverty caused by the sexual revolution is growing at alarming rates. The only solution is love, and the clear articulation of sexual morality. Love and the law go together, two pillars upon which we order our lives. We cannot lift people out of suffering by diminishing the role of the law.
In the case of material poverty, we must call out the abuses of tyranny and the lack of rule of law; and we must generously give to the needy.
As to the sexual revolution, fifty years later, Mark Regnerus’s Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy provides a sobering account of how artificial contraception has upended sexual relations, with consequences correlated with poverty and loneliness. Historically, women made men man up. Now they have a tough time of it, because men can go to someone else to get what they want, namely sex. It’s not that men are unable to commit, Regnerus argues—it’s that they don’t have to.
It is time for a new feminism that acknowledges how cheap sex burdens women, and especially children. This feminism, one that makes men man up, will be a crucial weapon in the war on poverty.
Luis E. Tellez is president of the Witherspoon Institute and author of Integrating God+Love+Law Into Your Life.