St. Paul uses a word for love rarely employed among his contemporaries. It seems as if he carefully avoided any of those terms, and they were many, which make it easy to associate the supreme virtue with desires which spend themselves in their own satisfactions, and through instinctive in human nature, are often degraded by man’s perversity. English people have never found a word entirely equivalent to St. Paul’s term. Our word love stands for a wide range of feeling. It may represent merely animal desire, or nothing more than sentimental fondness for a person or thing. The love which is supreme is something higher and more comprehensive than mere affection. Passion may degrade, emotionalism may tend to a self-indulgence of feeling scarcely less harmful, while sentimentalism may become the specious bane of self-deceit…Facile indulgence in emotionalism is sentimentalism, [which is] love’s counterfeit.
Those who attain the supreme virtue of charity will love their fellow men even when they cannot like them. Our liking for others depends upon the subtle influences of…class, education, and instinct. It is useless to suppose the we can like every one, or that we can like all people in equal degree. We need no be afraid or ashamed of our natural sympathies or repulsions, for when they are rightly disciplined they may serve high moral and social purposes. We are not enjoined to like but to love our fellow men. Love is shown in our readiness to treat others as those who with ourselves are children of One Father, and by a readiness to sacrifice ourselves for their welfare. It will hold a man to faithful service on behalf of the poor, the unhappy, the degraded, and inspire him to new energies in the endeavor to awaken even in the most depraved a conscious response to that love which is the source of man’s highest happiness, and through which all may experience life’s full satisfactions.
Love is the essential, dominant element in life. Faith, with its perception of realities beyond this world of time and space, is life’s awakening to the infinite mysteries surrounding us, but without love it brings no contentment or peace. Hope bids men press forward to a greater good, with the conviction that the ideal is real and the only worthy end of effort, but, until love quickens it, hope can do no more than keep men true in a painful struggle after a goal far distant and only faintly seen. Love is sovereign over all. Love is the beginning and the end, for God is love.
The Christian Year in the Times, The Times…,London, 1930: Quinquagesima, anonymous.