I love you

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Those are three words that led to quite the conversation the other night. We have a friar visiting from Italy at our friary these days. Enzo is a friar from Abruzzo who is doing doctoral work at our Order’s Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure “The Seraphicum” in Rome. He’s here in Toronto working on learning more English. So, the other night while watching some rerun of CSI or Law & Order or some other show featuring body parts, he mentioned his surprise at our use of the words “I love you”.  He has heard grandfathers say it to grandchildren, kids to their parents and even brothers, one to another. In Italian, I love you, or “Ti Amo” is reserved for the intimacy of lovers.  The expression used for other relationships in Italian is “Ti voglio bene” or I wish you well. Even that, according to Enzo is not used too casually. It implies an investment of one person to the other. It’s the intimate sentiment of family members and close friends for one another… uhmm… I wish you well???

I don’t know about you, but I was surprised by this. I mean, Italy is the country where I thought love was first discovered, no? How does the love of God fit into this? Doesn’t Jesus call us to “Love” one another? He doesn’t say.. wish each other well! Or are we too cavalier in English with the word “Love”?  I mean we do qualify it… like when one says… I love him,… like a brother. It’s not romantic love, but it is the strong love of brothers. (Not that all brothers, even twins, always experience this intense bond or love.)

Fraternal love is one of the important qualities of the call to religious life and especially the Vow of Chastity. Religious do not vow celibacy. Celibacy is about not getting married. Chastity, which for religious includes celibacy, is about being free with one’s love in a way that is consistent with one’s state in life… single, married, religious.. ordained etc.

Religious, in a way, are called to be experts of “love” because the love we express is, at our best, free from romantic interest. It is truly fraternal… directed to all of our sisters and brothers. In a world that is often so hyper-sexualized, it is all the more important to witness to an expression of love that is intimate, warm, faithful, passionate and life-giving. I think the Italian culture does a disservice to this call by avoiding the use of the word love in favour of  wishing someone well. If Love is not our calling… then why bother… nothing else satisfies… and as the Gospel tells us, in the end only three things will last.. faith, hope and love… and the greatest… is LOVE.

Here’s one of my favourite songs from Italy… that features this wonderful love…and I’ll claim it for us religious too 🙂

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