In our culture, ‘love’ is generally seen to be an ‘emotion’. We fall into love and we fall out of it. Love is something that just happens to us; we can’t help falling in and out of love.
In fact, ‘love’ is a choice. True love is a conscious, deliberate choice to make a gift of ourselves to another.
For St Pope John Paul II, love is all about gift. To love someone is to make a gift of yourself to another. Reflecting on the Trinity, we see the inner dynamic of love as a mutual gift of self: the Father makes a gift of himself to the Son, the Son makes a gift of himself to the Father, and the Holy Spirit springs forth from their mutual self-gift.
Being created in the image of God means that we too are called to become gift. A gift just as God is gift within the inner life of the Trinity and within the heavenly and created world.
This idea of ‘love as gift’ is expressed in several different phrases used frequently by St Pope John Paul II: self-donation, a sincere gift of self, self-gift, or simply ‘gift’, where ‘Gift’ refers to the divine and ‘gift’ to the human. All these terms refer to the same idea: to love is to make a gift of oneself to another.
We can’t make a gift of ourselves in isolation; we need someone to be a gift for. This is why Adam needed Eve. He needed someone to make a gift of himself to, and to make a gift of self to him. It is only in relationship that we can discover our capacity for making a sincere gift of self to God and others.
Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for himself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.
Gaudium et Spes, No. 24
A gift made through the body
This gift of self is made through the body. We are embodied souls, so our gift of self will be expressed and lived out through bodily acts. This may take the form of a generous act of service, the patient listening to another, or even the total gift of self enacted in sexual intercourse.