The Meaning of "Love" (and what Greek does better than English)
Now this is just a guess, but I'd bet that most of you watched the Super Bowl a couple weeks back. Whether you're a hardcore football fan like me, someone who just likes getting together with friends and family, or a foodie who waits all year for the feasts we cook on this special occasion, the Super Bowl has something for everyone! But this national spectacle has one more thing that almost everyone looks forward to: the commercials!
I personally felt like the commercials had been on a downward slope for the past couple of years, so I didn't come into Super Bowl 2020 with high expectations. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised! From Lil Nas X and Sam Elliot having a Western dance-off for some Cool Ranch Doritos to Google Assistant's poignant Alzheimer's tale, I thought the commercials this year were pretty darn good! There's one in particular I'd like to focus on, though: The New York Life commercial about Agape.
When I saw this commercial, I almost fell off of the couch. It has personal meaning for me, because the retreat center where I worked last year and have spent countless days at since my Junior year of high school (Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries) does an entire retreat on Agape! What is Agape, you might ask? It's one of the Greek words for love. You see, English is seriously lacking in our ability to describe love. Where we only have one word to describe this concept that is so central to humanity, Greek has 4.
Think about it. How many different meanings does love have in the English language? I can say that I love chocolate, the Red Sox, my sisters, my job, sleep, and Jesus, and have different types of "love" for each one! We don't love chocolate in the same way we love Jesus (or at least we shouldn't). But, because English only has one word for love, it can get a little confusing sometimes. Greek, however, is different. See if you can recognize where each Greek type of love is present in your own life:
The first Greek word for love is Philia, or the love between friends. Next is Storge, or the love one has for one's family. Third is Eros, or romantic love (this is what we most commonly think of and associate with the word "love" in English). Finally, there is Agape. Agape is different. It is described as "selfless, universal love." Selfless and universal, huh? That sounds kind of familiar. Agape is indeed selfless and universal, because Agape is the type of love that God has for us, his people.
That's pretty heavy stuff! Let's return to the commercial for a minute (I will, of course, have a link down below in case you missed it). We do need to remember that it's a commercial, so it's trying to sell us something (in this case, it's life insurance), but that doesn't mean that the message isn't good. In the ad, we hear Agape described as "love as an action." How beautiful is that? Besides, it's also true.
"Love as an action" rings especially true for us as followers of Christ, because we're called to more than just a passive care for those around us. We are called to actively share the love of Christ with the rest of the world through our lives. How do we do this? The Commandments are a great place to start! So is the Bible, or as a friend of mine calls it "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth." Let's go back to the commercial for some more examples.
We see various different visualizations of Agape in the ad. There's an old man bringing flowers to his hospitalized wife, an adult son bathing his elderly father, a group of teenagers shaving their heads in solidarity with a friend who has Cancer, and a few other examples. Now think for a second, and try to guess what these acts have in common. Don't look at the next paragraph until you have a guess!
Have you got it? Here's the answer: all of these actions involve the sacrifice of one person for the benefit of another. The husband sacrificing his time for his wife, the son doing a dirty and uncomfortable job for his father, and the teens giving up their hair for their friend all exemplify the selflessness of Agape. These are all plausible, believable ways in which Agape can enter into our lives, and it is our duty as Catholics to seek to spread this selfless love to everyone.
Remember, Agape is universal as well as selfless! God didn't say "Love everyone except _____," He just said "Love everyone!" I urge you to try to allow Agape to enter into your life. Think about what you really mean when you say you "love" something or someone. Which type of love is it? Is it healthy? Could it be stronger? And most importantly, is it selfless and universal?
I hope you all enjoyed this commercial as much as I did. I also hope that you will seek ways to live Agape out just a bit more in your lives, as I will in mine. My prayers are with you as always! May God bless you and keep you safe.