Happy St. Valentine’s Day. We often use this day as an opportunity to express our feelings for someone special with flowers, candy, gifts or notes. This can be very meaningful. However, St. Valentine’s Day also gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the true meaning of Christian love. Simply put: love is more than a feeling, it is a decision. Although St. Valentine’s Day usually focuses on feelings, a Christian is called to have Christian love whether he or she “feels” like it or not.
The English language is somewhat impoverished in regard to the word “love.” Love can mean many different things: We can say that we “love” pizza, or our dog, or the weather, or our parents, or our spouse, or our car. Unlike some other languages which have several words to describe such things, English has only the one word “love” which we use in many different ways. When we speak of Christian love, we mean love for neighbor is an unconditional love that goes beyond mere emotions and seeks what is best for others even if it means self-sacrifice. It means that one shares this love with others.
In the Gospel, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment in the Old Testament Law. He answers: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39) We often refer to these as the two Great Commandments.
However, at the Last Supper Jesus tells His apostles: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)
Words which people speak when they know that they are dying come from the depths of the heart. At the Last Supper, Jesus knew He was about to endure His passion and death. The words He speaks have a special significance. Jesus speaks of a “new” commandment. There is something in this commandment which differs from the two Great Commandments. The Old Law commanded to love your neighbor; the new commandment commanded “to love one another as I loved you.”
To speak of loving neighbor can sometimes be understood that I should write a check to feed the poor. Donations are great, even essential if we are to care for neighbor; but to love one another as I love you infers that we enter into a communion allowing ourselves to love and to be loved. It is not sufficient to stand apart and to care about others, instead it is necessary to enter into relationships that allow oneself to love and to be loved. Love cannot merely be an abstract idea. It must be a decision. If only this truly animated our lives.
Young people, and others, are leaving the Church. Questions are often asked about what sort of change in education, new program, or innovative approach to youth ministry should be adopted in order to keep the youth in the Church. However, external structures serve little purpose without love. It is my experience that youth are very tolerant of adults. We are old and they don’t expect much from us, but there is one thing they will not tolerate in adults: phoniness. They are looking for authenticity and authentic witnesses.
As Pope Francis said: People do not listen to teachers; they listen to witnesses. And they listen to teachers only if they are also witnesses. So as we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day we can ask ourselves the question of what kind of witness am I giving? What kind of environment do I create in my home, office, club, circle of friends?
People into health food remind us that we are what we eat. If at Mass we eat the real presence of Jesus, then we are called to be the real presence of Jesus in our daily lives. Are we the real presence of Jesus? Whom do I exclude? Whom would I prefer not to be with? Communion means to expand our hearts, to love the one difficult to love, to love our enemies, to expand our hearts and to love and allow ourselves to be loved.
We are called to make our parishes places of Christian love. This we would attract people to the Lord. People are starving for the word of God, the Eucharist, and loved shared, often without knowing it. Love frees us from meaninglessness. Without love of others, we become self-absorbed and slaves to ourselves. Love frees us to be the person we are created to be and who deep down inside we long to be.