What does “love is a theological virtue” mean?

Steven PutmanQandALeave a Comment

Question: I’ve heard that love is a theological virtue. What does that mean?

Answer:  Charles Shultz, the creator of the Peanuts comics wrote, “I love mankind… it’s people I can’t stand!” This good humored comment gets at an important truth. St. John wrote a very strong statement in one of his letters: “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). How often do we say “I love the homeless,” but ignore the parish food drive? Or insist on the importance of respecting others, but don’t bother to say hello to our cashier? If we can’t love an individual person, we might not love people like we think, and we certainly need to work on our love for God.

Love is “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822). God knows acts of love of Him and others isn’t always easy. So He invites us to pray for the grace to do it. The virtue of love gives us the grace and strength we need to offer our lives to God and love people in our lives, especially those who are difficult to respect, tolerate, and care for. Real love, of course, is risky. Real love wills the good of the other when we just want good for ourselves. Real love gets up on the cross when we’d prefer to take a nap in Gethsemane. Real love changes things.

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