St Catherine of Siena once wrote that there are three types of loves. The first ‘love’ is a love of fear. I am afraid of the power or authority that a person has, so I will give of myself in a desire to keep them happy. This is obviously not love at all, because the gift of self is not a free gift. It is done out of fear of punishment.

The second love is what Catherine of Siena calls ‘mercenary love’. A Mercenary is a soldier who fight only for the money. With no loyalty based on national pride, they will fight for whoever is willing to pay them the most. Catherine says that this is the most common form of ‘love’ in our world.

This sort of person will be generous and kind as long as they receive the respect or appreciation that they crave. As long as they receive love, they are prepared to give it. As long as the benefit makes the cost worth while, they will be the nicest person in the world.

Yet if the cost begins to outweigh the benefit, the story changes rapidly. Take the example of someone who lives their life trying to be a good Christian. Every day they bring a bowl of soup to their neighbour who is sick. Every day, the neighbour is extremely grateful to this person for caring for their needs. The Christian walks away feeling good about himself, and knowing that his effort is appreciated.

This continues until one day when their neighbour is in a bad mood. After their neighbour takes the bowl of soup, he picks up a shoe and throws it at his friend, cursing him and telling him to get out as fast as he can. He still wants more soup tomorrow, but he makes it clear that he has no desire to show any more appreciation. He also intends to throw a shoe at his neighbour every time he delivers the soup.

If you were in that situation, how many shoes would need to be thrown at you before you decided that there were other sick people around who were more deserving of your effort? While this may seem to be normal and even sensible, St Catherine would suggest that this is an example of Mercenary love. We are happy to love as long as there is something in it for us.

Imagine a situation where you kept going back to your neighbour no matter how much he hated you. Every day he takes the soup out of your hands, throws a shoe at you, curses and swears about how horrible you are and then demands that you return tomorrow with more soup. And each day, you return. Some days you even deliver more shoes in case he is running out. In fact, no matter how much he despises you, you continue to return and give him what he needs.

This probably sounds like madness and yet this is what Catherine of Sienna calls true love. The third love is the true form, without any distortion. It is completely focussed on giving, without any thought about personal benefit. As St Therese of Lisieux said in one of her poems, “Living by love means giving unendingly, claiming no earthly wage. I do not doubt this…I have stopped all counting up. I see that when one loves, one does not measure out!”