The word “love” is one of the most over-used words in the English language. It carries with it a variety of meanings. Culturally, love often connotes feelings of sentimentality or romance. The ancient Greeks were more sophisticated in their understanding of love, however. They had four words to contextualize this undoubtedly complex reality: eros, or physical love; storge, or empathy; philia, or the love between friends; and agape, or unconditional, sacrificial love.
When St. John quotes Jesus in the thirteenth chapter of his Gospel as saying “I give you a new commandment: love one another,” he uses the term agape, which is translated caritas, or charity, in Latin. Jesus never told his disciples to feel sentimental, or emotionally attached to others. He told his followers to love as He loves — that is, by sacrificing, and when it comes to the final test, giving one’s very life. It means loving even when one doesn’t receive reciprocal love back, as Christ did on the Cross.
As Pope Benedict writes eloquently in Deus Caritas Est, “Love of neighbor consists in the fact that in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place … from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend” (§18). When love is confused merely with its corresponding emotions, one can find Jesus’s command nearly impossible. But from the divine perspective, one is able to love even his enemy, because he sees in the other person the imago Dei.