By Father John Bullock
February 14th, 2007
The color red, countless hearts, Cupid and his bow, candy and roses all indicate that the day dedicated to those in love has arrived. The association of lovers with St. Valentine's Day goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages in England and France. February the 14th is around the time of year when birds would find mates, so this day also seemed appropriate for two people to show signs of that love (cf. www.newadvent.org). Yet does Valentine's Day still have anything to do with love? Is real love still possible?
Among the many gifts we have the most precious is our capacity to love. La Bohème, Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story, the poetry of John Donne and countless other poems songs and dramas throughout history have continuously revealed man's deepest desire: to love and to be loved. Perhaps that desire could be summarized with the image of a young man looking into a young woman's eyes on a starry night, promising to be hers "forever." That promise converted into a life-long commitment has the power to bring about life: newborn life and a fuller and richer life for each other as companions on a journey.
Yet, if this life of love is so wonderful and so greatly desired, why does it seem so difficult to obtain? Many marriages in America end in divorce. Prenuptial agreements settling the terms for the eventual separation, show resignation to an imminent divorce. Domestic violence affects countless people. Fewer people are tying the knot and more and more people are simply living alone. It seems that in our culture with so many broken homes and broken hearts that we have decided that it is better simply not to risk it. We may have "friendships with privileges," "hook up" or resort to pornography in order to satisfy desires, but we don't take the chance of actually loving, of giving ourselves in a life-long love. The problem is that while these stop-gap measures may bring momentary pleasure, they will not bring us happiness. Furthermore, these substitutes for love not only put off commitment to a life-long love but make it harder for one to commit later in life: "I've been hurt before."
Love is not a feeling. Feelings come and go. Love is self-donation; it is a decision to put the other first. St. Augustine summed up one of the central questions of life as "a struggle between two kinds of love: between the love of God unto sacrifice of self, and self-love unto the denial of God" (cf Salt of the Earth, 282). However, the same could be said about human love: either love of the other unto the point of self - sacrifice or love of self to the point of sacrificing the other. How admirable to see the love of a mother, a father, a friend or a professor who always seems to be there for others. We refer to them as self-sacrificing.
You must train yourself to love. You can't give what you don't have. So, to give yourself you must possess yourself. That means self control. If a young man truly loves a young woman, he will say no to other options now and in the future. On the other hand, imagine her telling him, "I'll love you until someone better comes along." That wouldn't be love. Furthermore, if they truly love one another, they will also want what is best for each other now and in the future. That means saying "no" to their desires at times. The sexual act by its very nature is a total and exclusive self - giving to the other. If a commitment is truly total, then it means now and in the future. There is nothing casual about it. Using a condom cannot guarantee protection from sexually transmitted diseases much less protect from the emotional scars that can result from casual encounters. Real love requires effort, but it's worth it.
Don't give up on love. It is possible. As Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully stated: My dear young friends, I want to invite you to "dare to love". Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters... (Papal Message for 22nd Youth Day, "A 'Discovery' of Love," February 5, 2007, Zenit.org).
Oh, and by the way, it seems that there were actually three saints named Valentine. All died willingly for their faith in God (cf. www.newadvent.org). Now that's love.