Since starting school at the University of Scranton, a common underlying theme has always be present. This theme is unconditional love. Throughout my Scranton journey, I have been apart of so many programs and encountered so many people that it is hard to not feel unconditional love. Whether I am on a retreat, in a quest to find my "true self" or on a service trip in order to follow the Jesuit ideal of "being men and women for an with others," love is constant factor surrounding us that allows for individuals to open their hearts for personal growth. Although there is no correct way to love, there are so many dimensions that allow it to be relevant in all things. Love continues to show its prescence through the parables which help individuals gain a deeper connection between faith and reality.
Love and Parables
As defined in class, a parable is "a metaphor extended into a narrative for the sake of transformation." A parable is meant to be created in order for an individual to learn a lesson or gain an insight. One might be able to argue that the word "love" can be interchangeable. Just as a parable is meant to create a transformation within a person, love can also spark a personal growth. Both love and parables are understood through "indirect works. " Love is a feeling of comfort that is received through actions. "God is not known to us in God's nature, but it made known to us from God's operations" (C. Olsen, personal communication, February 2019). A similar idea applies to love. To many, love may be indescribable since it is not concrete, but still an innate human need. Individuals can only feel love through words and actions. These actions are stemming from love of God, fulfilling "God's operations."
Types of Love
In class this week, we learned five principles that Bernard Lonergan, SJ states to help transcend growth within a person. They are: Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible, Be in love (Lonergan, n.d.). These principles can help individuals create an authentic and genuine lifestyle by living them out to the fullest. One principle that stands out to me is to Be in love. Love can be shown or felt in many different forms or between different types of people. There are four different types of love: eros, storge, phillia, and agape. Eros embodies the idea of romantic love, it “ is an exulted and beautifully idealistic love, usually between a man and woman, but can also be “platonic” and extend to deeply intimate friendships” Phileo is “easy love and affection, it is bent towards our natural tastes and preferences” Phileo is the rich love you feel for friends when you share a bond or common interests. The third type of love is agape. Agape is the unconditional love that is received, it is similar to the love God shows for us. The fourth type of love is Storge. Storge is “the love of community and family.” Although you may not always be able to feel storge, it is always present. (Ichykoo, 2015)
The first time I truly understood the meanings behind agape and phileo was through a program run through the Center for Service and Social Justice called Spark. Spark is a program for twelve to sixteen year olds from the Scranton community who are considered at risk or falling through the cracks. The program focuses on different topics that are relevant to the teens lives such as self-expression, role models and relationships, wellness, and bullying. During the week long program, students from Scranton Prep and the University of Scranton run fun, interactive presentations on each of the topics to help create a positive, nurturing environment for participants. During the week, the first thing team members are told is that our job is to love the teens for the week. As much as we loved the kids, the love we received was always overwhelming. Throughout the week, I often felt phileo and agape. God’s love was in the air through the actions of all of the participants and team members. I am lucky that media is a big part of my lifetime because I now can relive some of my favorite memories through a video that was created during the week. When ever I see the SPARK video or hear the song that is played in the background “Bonfire Heart” by James Blunt, I am automatically reminded of the phileo and agape I felt throughout the duration of the program.
One of the main themes of this course is authenticity. Students are challenged to find their true and genuine selves through the use of pop culture. Individuals are constantly working on growing and developing themselves through various stages of life. To me, being authentic, means being true to yourself. In a world full of social media, it can be difficult to be genuine and stick to what makes you you. Something I learned since I was in middle school was the importance of self expression. Self expression allows a person to translate what is in one’s mind to the world; it is a way to develop a unique personality. Self expression and authenticity go hand in hand: you can’t express yourself without being authentic and you can’t be authentic without expressing yourself.
Love Others to Love Yourself
One of my favorite forms of media is videos. Since I began college, I learned that I especially enjoy watching TED Talks because the options are endless, and I end up learning about myself. I recently watched the TED Talk, “Love others to love yourself” by Keiichiro Hirano. Although the talk was in Japanese with English subtitles, I learned a lot that I forsee can lead to self discovery. Hirano relates love to authenticity; he states that it is important to find self love to become authentic, but to find self love you need to love others first. When I first heard this I was a little perplexed since I was always taught to love myself first before giving my heart to others. Hirano’s logic then made sense. He explains that people like being with other people because of the way that person makes them feel. For example, if I am with a friend who always makes me laugh and feel unconditional love, I actually love myself more because of the way I feel when I am with that person rather than someone who I do not share as many laughs. When we spend time with those who make us feel special, we love ourself because we are our authentic, genuine selves.
Kisses from Katie
The love I feel is connected strongly with my faith. I often feel God’s unconditional love through people and events. One way that I like to spend my free time is reading. While reading, I can escape to a new reality as I flip through the dusty pages of my loaned library book. One of the first times I noticed the strong correlation between love and faith is when I read my favorite book, "Kisses from Katie, a Story of Relentless Love and Redemption." The story is an autobiography about Katie Davis, a young adult who moved to Uganda to volunteer. Originally, Katie was supposed to stay for 10 months in Uganda, but ended up feeling a calling from God to continue her life there. While living in Uganda, Katie welcomes numerous children into her life who were living in unhealthy situations in order to help them survive. Katie and the children end up creating an unbreakable bond which eventually leads to adoptions of at least 14 girls. Throughout the novel, Katie continuously shows selfless behaviors through her actions and words. She countlessly puts the needs of others before herself as she provides her girls with unconditional love while trusting God. Katie resembles the perfect ideation of Christian living. One of the notions that is stressed throughout my Scranton journey is the Catholic Social Teachings of life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community and participation, rights and responsibilities, preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, solidarity, and care for God’s creation. Katie lives her life by every one of the Catholic Social Teachings. In class, we have been discussing race and religion through numerous forms of media. Katie breaks down the walls of race that have been seen in the class movies and lives her life in solidarity with the people of Uganda. By embracing herself in the culture of Uganda, Katie lives in unity alongside natives by providing unconditional love to everyone she meets. Katie serves as a role model and inspiration for many. After reading her book, I started to reflect on my own relationship with God. I strengthened my relationship with Him by trusting him and allowing myself to follow His lead. I hope I can learn from Katie and live in solidarity by providing others with unconditional love. Although, I was not able to include the whole novel in the Spark page, I did include a video of Katie talking about the novel.
Love and Service
Love is such a powerful feeling that connects people from all backgrounds. One might say that love is a universal language. When I think of love, I often think back to some of my service trips where the feeling of love was always present. I have been fortunate to have been on three service trips during my Scranton journey to Quito, Ecuador, Houston, Texas, and Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Two of the three locations primary language is Spanish, which I am unable to speak. Although I was not able to speak the language, I was able to communicate through different means.
I went on my service trip to Ecuador my first year of school through the International Service Program. While there, we volunteered at the Working Boys Center, a place where families who are in poverty can come for meals, health, and education for no cost. The Center is based off ten principles that helps members understand the true importance in life. The principles are: loyalty, personal formation, family, religion, education, health, work, recreation, economy, and housing. During my ten days in Ecuador, I was able to learn the value of all these principles from the people of the center through the love they showed us. While we were there, I truly learned how to love and feel loved through the connections made with the families of the center.
The same concept applies to my most recent trip to Puerto Rico. Although this trip was a building trip compared to a presence based trip, we were still able to feel connected to the people we were serving through love. As we were about to drive away from the worksite the last day, the woman from one of the house’s were were working on, opened up our van doors. Although I did not understand word for word what she was saying, we were able to feel her love and God’s love as she thanked us for volunteering for the week. At the end of her farewell, there was not a dry eye in the van. We all felt such a strong, loving bond with a woman we met four days earlier. God’s love was definitely in the air.
Reflection is a vital part of the service trip experience. Each night, service trip participants are called together to process what happened throughout the day. Often times the student leaders choose to end reflections with a song that ties together the whole theme of the service journey. When I think of the love felt on my trips, I often think of one of the reflection songs from my trip to Ecuador. This song was “Make you Feel My Love” by Adele. The song talks about going to endless means to allow someone to feel loved, and it often reminds me of my connections formed on my service trips.
One of the best ways, I have felt the power of unconditional love is through the friendships I have formed, especially through college. One thing that I think is especially special about friendships is that most of the time they are formed through common interests. Many of my friendships have been created through service opportunities. I am so lucky, and I truly believe I have some of the best friends. My friends exemplify everything that should be present in a positive relationship including open communication, trustworthiness, honesty, and care for one another. I think the best thing about my friends is they are just as quirky as me and allow me to be unapologetically myself. When reflecting back on my groups of friends, I have noticed that they all hold unique characteristics that have allowed me to be the person I am today. All of my friends have provided me with unconditional love and through that I have been able to seen God in them.
My apartment mates have quickly become some of my best friends that I have made at Scranton. They are some of the most fun, loving quirky people I know. They provide me with numerous laughs through being nothing but themselves. My apartment mates show compassion by genuinely caring about my day. They provide unconditional love through small actions each day that they complete with great love.
Some of my friends have allowed me to strengthen my relationship with God. Many of them, I have met and formed close relationships because of service opportunities. Together we have experienced transforming opportunities that have allowed us expand our friendship into discussing more than just the superficial. I see God in these friends through the selfless love they share with others. They make me want to continue to grow and develop my faith and reflect on the little joys in life.
I have always known that I would prefer to have quality friends over quantity of friends. My home friends exemplify this characteristic. I only have three friends from elementary school and high school, but they are such quality friends that that is all I need. Since I live so close to school, I like to refer to my home friends as my forever friends. They have been with me through a lot of the bad and good in my life, and are always there to support me. Although we do not talk often during the semester, my friends are always there to listen or just to provide lots of laughs. I feel the unconditional love between us through the memories we have shared.
Unconditional love can also be seen in the form of passion. To me, passion is a feeling that an individual receives when they are intrinsically motivated and fully engulfed in something. Passion can take place in many forms, whether it is education, advocacy, or active participation in something. One thing that I have been passionate about since I was younger is Irish Dance. When I was four years old, my parents enrolled me in Irish Dance at our local Irish Cultural Society. From a very young age, I fell in love with dance. I was always practicing and showed continued enthusiasm when at dance class. As I got older, I continued to enjoy Irish Dance more and more. Eventually, my parents and I decided it was time to transfer dance schools so I could keep improving. I tried two more different dance schools for various reasons and finally my parents and I decided to make the final switch to a dance school an hour away from my house. This school was different from all the others because the teacher was certified through an organization which allowed me to compete. As I started to become more involved in the competitive Irish Dance world, my passion began to grow with it. My dance studio quickly provided me with a space that allowed me to be comfortable just being me. My love and passion continued to grow and taught me discipline, dedication, and how to work hard. Dance provided me with some of my best friends in high school. My dance friends motivated me to push myself to become a better dancer. Once I graduated high school, I decided it was the proper time to retire from dance. Although I miss dancing, some of my memories have been captured through my friend’s Irish Dance Vlog.
The Blind Side
Unconditional love can be present in many forms, even through the use of pop culture. One movie that relates to the idea of unconditional love or agape is The Blind Side. The Blind Side is based off a true story of a mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, who saw needs and potential of a homeless Africian American teenage boy, Michael Oher. Leigh Anne Tuohy opened her eyes and heart to welcome Michael into her life. Leigh Anne Tuohy encouraged her children and husband to not only welcome Michael as a visitor in their home, but as a new member of their family. Leigh Anne Tuohy recognized the potential Michael had in both academics and athletics. Through continued support and persistence, Leigh Anne Tuohy encouraged and motivated Michael to overcome his past and succeed educationally and socially. Mrs. Toughy provided unconditional love and support for Michael which attested to her selfless attitude. Mrs. Touhy’s charismatic personality allows Michael to be pushed to reach his potential. Touhy and her family looked beyond Michael’s rough upbringing, and acknowledged all of the positive Michael has to offer. The scene below from The Blind Side depicts the unconditional love and support Leigh Anne Tuohy has to offer. Instead of letting Michael continue to walk outside in the rain and cold, Mrs. Tuohy coaxes Michael to join her and her family at home where there will be a roof over his head for the night. She provides unconditional loves by pushing past the physical and social differences between her Michael and her family to make Michael one with her family. This selfless action is a great example of unconditional love. When I watch the movie, The Blind Side, I am inspired by the Tuohy family’s unconditional love that provides Michael with a new lifestyle, home, and family. I admire the actions shown by the Tuohy family, and I hope I can use the selflessness I learned from the movie into my own life.
Maintaining the Feeling
One thing that can be presented as a challenge is maintaining the feeling of unconditional love. Sometimes, on day’s where God’s presence might not be as visible to me, it can be hard to remember the times when the love was so strong. Since starting school at Scranton, one thing I have spent time thinking about is how to maintain the feeling of unconditional love. My Jesuit education has taught me the importance of reflecting each day. I used to think it was a waste a time, because I tend to live in the moment. I used to dread doing exercises such as Ignatian Examen because it forced me to recall the events of my day. Now, I like to practice some type of reflection each night. One thing I have turned into a daily routine is journaling. Each night, right before I go to sleep, I like to think about my day and jot down my high, low, and funny of the day in my five year one line a day book. This has allowed me to look back on the last year and the present to notice the blessings and unconditional love in my life. Through journaling, I also have the opportunity to see the transformation that has happened in my life within a year. In addition, this year I started taking a one-second a day video. This app allows me to have a visual representation of each day. I can see all of the fun moments and laughs I have had with the people I care for and love. When I am feeling sad or a little off, I now have these physical forms of reflections to look back on to remember the unconditional love that I am fortunate enough to have in my life.
Created with images by Tyler Nix - "untitled image" • PhotoMIX-Company - "heart love sunset" • Harli Marten - "Pink sunset couple" • Simon Maage - "untitled image"