Written By: Krista Keil
“In order to bring out the greatness in people, we need to love them. Love is the only way to grasp human beings in the innermost core of their personality, to discover their talents, and encourage them to actualize their potential. (Havard, 2018).
In American society, the word “love” is often misused. Don’t get me wrong: the word is frequently utilized, but we tend toward our favorite definition of love as a feeling, a ‘mood,’ or solely a romantic inclination. In actuality, love encompasses action and being, and these understandings are what should be reflected in our daily lives. The human person’s innate desire to give and receive love permeates our society, thus it is vital to cultivate a well-formed understanding of what love is.
C.S. Lewis explores the Greek definitions of love: storge, philia, eros, and agape. Storge, or familial affection, as defined by Lewis, is the most common form of love we experience--that which surrounds us in our daily interactions; philia, or friendship, is the most time-consuming, emphasizes relationship, and is vital in that it promotes community; eros, or romantic love, is passionate, and inclined towards another with whom we share this sentiment mutually; agape, or charity (Caritas), is the most profound and should be our chief aim; it is unconditional sacrificial love- the giving of oneself. This is why love, along with faith and hope, is a theological virtue. These virtues nourish the human person and compel us towards the greatness of spirit.
When love is viewed from the lens of agape, it inspires us to remember what sacrificial love requires: responsibility and resilience. These are not foreign concepts to us, as we often see these themes play out in our popular culture--in movies, music, and literary works. Heroines are often depicted amidst a love story, and ultimately end up making an act of profound sacrifice for the common good or for a specific individual. Why is it that these heroic acts are the epicenter of our story-telling?
It is because agape is the greatest of all virtues; it is divine love expressed through the love of humankind, and it is inscribed upon the heart of man. The human person has a natural inclination towards agape, and towards the common good. Because of this, we cannot help but be drawn to it. “Pop” culture itself shows us that acts of charity resonate in the human heart: our personhood becomes ignited when we observe or participate in charitable acts. And so, agape, is what should be reflected in our interactions with one another.
In honor of Black History Month and as we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, the Youth Leadership Foundation has made L.O.V.E. into an acronym to remind students, mentors, staff, and supporters of the importance of love in action and being:
As C.S. Lewis discusses, affection (storge), friendship (philia), and romantic love (eros) each serve as a training ground for charity to grow. Love itself, should be a virtuous act. We invite you to use Valentine’s Day this year to reflect on love in its truest form: as charity towards one’s neighbor. Additionally, we invite you to use Black history month to reflect on powerful stories of Americans who lived lives of responsibility, resilience, and charity. I leave you with one such story from my home state of Colorado.
Julia Greeley was an American woman born a slave in Missouri in the early 1800s. Freed by the Missouri Emancipation Act in 1865, Julia worked as a housekeeper and nanny for various families throughout the Midwest but spent the majority of her adult life in Denver, Colorado. It is said that whatever Julia did not need for herself, she spent assisting poor families in her neighborhood. In order to keep those she helped from embarrassment, she did most of her work by night, carting a little red wagon of food, fuel, and clothing for those in need, despite suffering from severe arthritis.
However, “Julia’s quiet courage and hidden life did not go unnoticed. When she died on June 7, 1918, an estimated 1,000 mourners gathered to pay their respects to a woman many called Denver’s “Angel of Charity.” (juliagreeleyhome.org)
Julia was, in all respects, a virtuous leader who understood that love is rooted in charity. Julia exemplified that living with caritas can lead us towards spiritual greatness. As her life is a powerful reflection of agape, a cause for sainthood has begun for Julia, something we can all aspire to.
This is the only extant photo of Julia Greeley. Taken from juliagreeley.org