Concretely, what does this path of ascent and purification [of eros] entail? How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise? Here we can find a first, important indication in the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book well known to the mystics. According to the interpretation generally held today, the poems contained in this book were originally love-songs, perhaps intended for a Jewish wedding feast and meant to exalt conjugal love. In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different Hebrew words are used to indicate “love”. First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabà, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.
Deus Caritas Est 6
Reflection – ‘Everybody’s got a hungry heart… I still haven’t found what I’m looking for… I can’t get no satisfaction…’ and so on and so forth. The annals of popular music bear witness to this reality that Pope Benedict so ably describes in this passage from his first encyclical. Dodim – searching love, hungry love, love that pursues, clings to, is moved by the beloved. We all know this, regardless of our state of life—it is intrinsic to the human experience.
In our modern world (and it may well be that this is no modern innovation, but a perennial human reality) the idea seems to be that we are hungry, we desire, we search, we pursue… and then the big happy ending is that we attain the object of our desire and are satisfied.
Pope Benedict points out quite wisely that this doesn’t really work. Catherine Doherty made the same point in a very different way. She had talked with many teenagers and young adults about their aspirations and dreams for life. Most of them wanted to get married, and when she asked them why, they mostly answered, “So I can be loved.” Her question was short and to the point: “And who is going to do the loving?”
If it’s all about ‘my hunger’ and my quest to have my desires met… well, where does that leave the rest of you? What about your hunger, your desire? There’s a deep question of our humanity at stake in all this. If we’re all just a bunch of hungry hearts running around looking for satisfaction… well, who’s going to do the loving? If it’s left there, doesn’t it all get turned into mutual using, mutual desiring, what one of our MH staff calls ‘the law of mutual gobbling’?
The Holy Father points out the way out of this ‘law,’ which in Scripture is really what is meant by the term ‘the flesh’ – what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Love is always about ‘the other’ – but immature love is about what the other can give me. Love is to be matured past that – the other matters because they matter – not because he or she gives me this or that, ‘satisfies’ me in one way or another (this is about much more than sex, you know – there are all kind of ways of both using the other and truly loving the other).
Pope Benedict will go on in the encyclical (and we will go right along with him) to show how it is that love is purified from use to a true caring for the other. It is the path of commitment, consecration, true gift of self to the other. It is, simply, marriage, whether the vocation of marriage between man and woman or the total consecration of the person to the True Other, the deep gift of self to God which is predicated on the deep gift of God to each. And this is the path each one of us is travelling on, the path of purified eros leading us to the heights of agape and self-gift. A hard path, but the only one that leads up, if you know what I mean.