The Old Testament’s Song of Songs, an option for the first reading on Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent (Sg 2:8-14), makes some uncomfortable and uneasy with its expressive language.
I suggest that this is because of a misunderstood and distorted culture-driven view of eros –– that love between a man and a woman, a husband and wife, or as imaged in the Song of Songs in today’s reading, the lover and the beloved.
Properly comprehended, eros is that pure and chaste love which, when fulfilled, matures and flourishes in a divinely-inspired and grace-filled love known as agape –– an unconditional love which desires or wills the good of the other, and whose fulfillment is found in the sincere gift of self.
Agape is that love which led Mary, after her Annunciation, to immediately travel to visit her cousin Elizabeth as read in today’s Gospel from Luke. And agape is that joyously expressed love by which Elizabeth received her cousin Mary.
During the pandemic, I have been privileged to witness agape in action. I serve in a residential pastoral setting in which we care for women and men with intellectual disabilities 24/7, 365 days a year. We have acknowledged and recognized that “heroes work here.” This has certainly been true among the staff and, in particular, the direct support professionals, their managers and health care teams.
When I think of “hero,” what comes to mind is that aspect of the canonization process by which it is decreed, by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, that a person, after the presentation of intense, voluminous documentation, has lived a life of “heroic virtue” and can now be addressed as “Venerable.”
The “heroes” that are our partners in mission, in the throes of this pandemic, manifest daily heroic degrees of the saintly virtues of compassion, patience, perseverance, fortitude, mercy, justice and agape love. And they live all of these out in caring for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
With these partners in mission as my exemplars, I pray, through the intercession of Mary and Elizabeth, that I too may reflect the agape love in caring for and supporting these treasured “gifts of God.”
Father Dennis M. Weber, a priest of the Servants of Charity, is the director of ministry and mission for the developmental programs division of Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
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