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Love as Gift

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.

Theology of the Body Insight

A mutual gift of self.

This gift of self may be unilateral or mutual. When children are very young, the parent-child relationship is a unilateral, or one-sided, gift of self. It is a benevolent love, in which the parent has no expectation of having his or her personal needs met. In a mutual gift of self, the love is reciprocated. This is the ideal of the husband and wife relationship, where both make a sincere gift of self to each other.

Pope John Paul II called this mutual exchange a ‘communion of persons’. This is one reason why marriage is a Sacrament but parenthood is not; Marriage, as a reciprocal gift of self , more accurately images the Trinity.

…this gift allows both the man and the woman to find each other reciprocally, inasmuch as the Creator willed each of them ‘for his own sake’.”

TOB 15:3. pg 187.

Stories of the Heart

In the early years of our marriage, when I felt ‘out of love’ with my husband, I used to become critical of him, and would try to nag him into giving me the attention I wanted. I blamed him for the loss of my ‘in love’ emotions. When I realised that love wasn’t about an emotion, but about being a gift, it changed the way I behaved. I stopped demanding that he help me feel loving emotions, and instead, focused on loving him. I tried to put aside my emotions of irritability and hurt that made me want to punish him, and concentrated on how I could help him feel more loved. I found, that by focusing on him, I also ended up feeling a lot better myself because our relationship was better.

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