Earlier this week I happened to come across a snippet of a sermon by St. Augustine. You remember St. Augustine, the young man of means who partied through his youth. Even when he matured and discovered God, he prayed for chastity and continence, “but not yet.”
He went on to become a fifth century bishop and influential theologian of the early Christian church in Africa.
I was struck that even in the early days of the Common Era, men and women who are so far removed from us in time and culture struggled with the same pivotal question aptly posed by Cole Porter in 1929: “What is this thing called love?”
After years of hedonistic self-indulgence, Augustine recognized that our heart is in a bad way when we keep it to ourselves.
“When it was in your own hands. You were a prey to emptiness,” he cautioned. “It is by refusing to give yourself that you lose yourself.”
“Goods of great price are called ‘dear,’” Augustine said. “But what could be more dear than love. The cost of land or wheat is your silver, the cost of a pearl is your gold, but the cost of your love is you yourself.”
Centuries before Augustine, Greek philosophers defined lasting love as one in which each person loves the other for who they are, melding into a relationship where “a single soul dwells in two bodies.”
Seneca, the Roman philosopher and tutor to Emperor Nero wrote: “You should live for the other person if you wish to live for yourself.”
From what I myself have learned from living in a marital relationship for a half-century, love is a verb, an ongoing act of self-giving. A lasting relationship is one in which each person cares foremost for the good of the other. It’s not meeting each other halfway; it’s each relinquishing 100%.
Augustine put it this way: “If you want to possess love, look no further than yourself; it is yourself you must find.”
(Image: The author and his late wife)