From the earliest times of human consciousness, love was a gift and a challenge. People tried to understand the stirrings of the heart by creating definitions of love which, in fact, never completely captured this multifaceted aspect of human beings. The ancients divided love into three kinds: agape – the love of the divine and the divine in us, filio – the love of fondness and friendship with those with whom we share life and experience, and eros – sexual love.
Poets have written about love. John Henry Cardinal Newman took as his episcopal motto “cor ad cor loquitur” Heart speaks to heart. Rejected sexual love can morph into hatred and sometimes violence. Then too there is the love of friendship, the love of people for their pets who are endlessly faithful .
Love is not chosen. It arises unbidden in us and lasts long after dementia or death cause separation. My mother’s friend, Laura, was in a nursing home the last eight months of her life. Her mind clouded, Laura could no longer remember my mother’s name, but my mother continued to visit her, and each time, from some deep place, Laura recognized my mother. “You’re my friend, “Laura would say.
Childhood experiences sometimes affect the breadth and scope of our love long into our adult years. Tommy, as a second grader, saved his allowance so he could buy 5 Valentines for his five favorite fellow second graders. ”How many in the class? ” Tommy’s Mom asked. “20.” said Tommy. Mom showed him a packet of 20 cards for a dollar.” “Then you could give one to everyone in the class.” Tommy’s Mom pointed out and waited. Tommy swallowed hard, but he took his mother’s suggestion. One little girl in the class, came to Tommy on Valentine’s Day, tears in her eyes, clutching a card close to her. “ Oh Tommy, thank you. Yours is the only Valentine I got.” Tommy told me this story when he was forty.
If Valentine’s Day can be celebrated with a wide embrace, it can also be celebrated as a time to renew and deepen our commitments. Commitment is not a popular idea in our culture. A segment of our population today favor: try this or that. Give our bodies to someone on a temporary basis. Make ourselves the sole measure of the choices we make.
Commitment to our work does make it big these days – but other commitments are harder to stay with, grow with . I’m thinking of marriages left because someone more appealing came along, the priesthood or religious life never tries because the sacrifices are too many.
If you’ve continued in a relationship with others for years, Valentine’s Day can be a time to recommit and resolve to find new ways to grow together. If you’ve given yourself to God through a religious commitment of whatever kind, make time to spend with God on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day can be a time to choose again, to repeat our yes, to transform a day of knickknacks, candy, trifles and trite phrases into a time of love, truly deepened with our God and one another.
My heart is ready, O Lord. My heart is ready.
-Sister Joan Sobala