If I pass one more display of heart-covered boxer shorts, I will scream.
How did this happen to St. Valentine’s Day? How did the remembrance of Christian martyrdom, and the spreading Christ’s gospel, become an annual excuse for every thing from fat-cheeked cherubs to licentious behavior?
The answer is sex, of course, and greed for profit. Sex and greed drive American culture on every level. They define our economy, they motivate the business world, and they monopolize all forms of entertainment. They manipulate our children, overwhelm our teens, and have most adults living in a haze of desire and frustration.
However, within the candy-coated cacophony of Valentine’s Day, amid the hype and secularization of what the day has become, is the grain of truth. We are fascinated with finding and experiencing love. We prize it and chase after it and wish our lives could be filled with it. We want to be cherished, to be someone’s joy. It is exactly this vulnerability of our characters, this yearning for love, which evil exploits, perverting what God has intended to be the noblest of our desires.
What is it about our human nature that predisposes us for love? God Himself. God is love (1 John 4:8) and we are made in His image. Placing in each being, born and unborn, an innate desire to love and be loved, God provides the answer to the very longing He creates. What we do with this desire, how we seek to fulfill it through the course of our lives, dictates whether or not we will ever find "true love."
God would not create us, place a desire for love in us, and then leave us orphans to discover how to satisfy such a complex and deep-rooted need. It makes sense to turn to Him, the Source of Love, if we are to understand how to find it and experience it. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) gives us a "check list" of sorts, putting it as plainly as he can:
Love is patient; love is kind
Love is not jealous; it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish.
Love is never rude, nor self-seeking, nor prone to anger;
Nor does it brood over injuries.
Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth.
There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.
Love never fails.
If you were tempted to skip over those lines, please go back and re-read them. This time try replacing every reference to the word "love" with your own name. Go ahead. It’s a sobering exercise in confronting what love really is.
Whether we are spouses, parents, siblings, friends, or — like the Good Samaritan — strangers, our names should be synonymous with the word love. St. Paul, inspired by God, tells us what love is supposed to be and what it shouldn’t be, speaking in a manner so straightforward that it challenges us just as effectively today as it did the Corinthians 2,000 years ago. Which leads us to another truth about love-it is unchanging. (Unlike Valentine fads and boxer shorts.)
True love sounds impossible, and without God it is. Like every other attribute of God, love is a mystery and we can only understand what He mercifully reveals to us. How do we become patient, kind, generous and true, how do we prepare to love and to be loved? It starts with our relationship to God.
"Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you, O Lord," avers St. Augustine in his Confessions . We can’t love others and be loved ourselves until we discover God’s love for us. Through an intimate relationship with our Creator first, we can then find the paths that lead to true love with our fellow creatures, whether in a friendship, a marriage, a family or a world-wide community. This remains true for every type of love that we seek: fraternal, familial, sexual and spiritual.
When you remove God from the discussion of love, you forfeit your ability to understand any portion of the mystery. Furthermore, love without God morphs into other things, ugly things, such as lust instead of charity and self-gratification instead of commitment. Instead of filling our lives with satisfaction and joy, this "love" becomes an excuse for victimization and betrayal, replacing hope with despair.
Love without God can take wicked turns and disguise itself as a noble concept, such as "compassion," "social justice," or "dignity." If ever there was a nation fallen prey to false love, it is the United States. Under cunning guises of compassion, freedom, understanding and choice, our society has accepted homosexual behavior, euthanasia and abortion, all diabolical and all false imitations of true concepts. As we can see, without God, true love is unsustainable.
Of course those faithful to the Gospel know that love can’t be separated from God, no matter how much people desire such an amputation. "All love is a determination to be God-like," states Fr. John Corapi, SOLT. "True love is not a feeling. It is a decision." If love is God-like, then it is God-centered and can not survive without His presence.
According to tradition, Saint Valentine (derived from the word "valens," meaning "worthy") was either one saint or several who lived in Roman times. The traditional feast day is not included in the liturgical calendar, however Valentine remains on the list of saints the Church proposes for our veneration. The feast of Saint Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I who included Valentine among those "… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." It would seem that Valentine, like many aspects of love, must remain something of a mystery to us.
Legend has Valentine performing marriages for faithful Roman Christians, at peril of his life, and carrying messages of love and Gospel teachings to and from prisons to give hope to the persecuted. During the 14th century, when conventional belief held that birds begin to pair on February 14 (halfway through the second month of the year), popular customs became associated with the feast day. It was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens, or valentines.
Valentine’s Day comes shortly before Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season, and its no coincidence that one follows the other. It’s the time of year when God especially calls us to get our hearts in order so we can experience the true love He offers in His Son’s sacrifice and resurrection from the dead. Even death has no hold on those who seek the love of God.
As Christians, we have been given a great treasure of love that we are meant to share with all mankind. We have the opportunity, through our words and the witness of our lives, to take back the definition of true love from a secular world that has perverted and exploited it. At the time of Saint Valentine, amid rampant political and personal corruptions of every kind, the light of the faithful Christians served as a beacon of hope and truth in a world consumed with evil.
"See the way they love one another!" wrote the early Christian author Tertullian, quoting the pagans of the time who were astonished at the loving and sacrificial behavior of the Christian communities. Wives and husbands loved one another and dedicated themselves to their children. Many Christians joyously embraced celibacy for the sake of Christ. All took care of the sick, the poor and the orphaned. And the entire community derived their love from prayer, penance, and the Eucharist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the same could be said of us today? "See those Catholics, see the way they love one another! They stand outside of abortion clinics because of love. They fill the Churches because of love. They stay married and have children because of love. They enter monasteries and religious orders because of love. They find joy and satisfaction in love.
"What do they know about love that we don’t?"