Thoughts after Valentine's Day

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, the day of love. On that day people open their hearts to people they love. In words or deeds they reveal their message in three magic words. To the spiritually inclined love has no gender orientation. It conveys a feeling of oneness, of friendship untainted by any thought of physical gratification. Sacrifice is its banner and self-giving its theme. Like a spring it gushes out from a source unspoiled by banal impulses and spreads out its coolness for many people to enjoy.

These statements paraphrase St. Paul's discourse on love. He says: "Love is patient, kind, without envy, is not boastful nor arrogant…" The saint further says that love never ends and does not seek its own interests, that it overcomes anger and is happy with the truth, that it forgives and believes and hopes in all things. In sum, love is the quintessence of all that's good and desirable in a human heart.

With all such qualifiers, how is love expressed? The apostle St. Stephen who prayed for forgiveness for those who stoned him to death was an exemplar of a real lover. Blessed Mother Teresa who kissed the oozing wounds of lepers was another authentic lover. The young men and women who left behind their fathers and mothers, siblings and kins (and even sweethearts) to spread the word of God - these too were lovers of the first order. And of course the greatest of all lovers is the One who proclaimed his love in Calvary.

What of the young whose ideas of love evoke the fire of roses and the aroma of wine? With stars in their eyes and serenades in their hearts, are they great lovers too? It depends. If they measure up to St. Paul's abstractions on love, they could be great lovers. Their obsession may zero in on the opposite sex. It may be driven by a physical impulse, yet the sacredness of this feeling is no less diminished, and their desire is no less sublime. Desiring intimacy with the person of opposite sex is a God-given desire, hence it is something spiritual, part of God's scheme of things. Sexual love, the Church says, is something good provided it is practiced within the walls of matrimony. Procreation is its purpose but even this in no way denigrates the sexual dimension of the relationship.

This point is stressed by Pope John Paul II in his Love and Responsibility where he underscores the need for instilling in youth sexual morality based on a three dimensional concept of love. Love, he says, is an expression of personal responsibility, responsibility to another human being and responsibility to God. The Pope explains that two persons in love should never use each other for his or her own gratification. Each should exercise his own freedom freely towards the other and the encounter of two freedoms is the "substance of love". If the lovers simply want to use each other their relationship would fall short of being authentic love because there would be no giving but taking, no self-sacrifice but self-satisfaction. The self, unable to understand its imperfection, can never attain the wholeness derived from mutual surrender of selfhoods.

In the context of Pope John Paul's idea of love, how do the love affairs of present day youth stand? Are these expressions of their responsibility towards themselves and towards God? If these affairs are mere empty cravings for emotional fulfillment or physical enjoyment, they are deficient of the Pope's measure of love. But if these are ventures into the realm of mutual self-donation, freely given and freely accepted, done with procreative and unitive intentions, these are the kind of relationship the Holy Father wants.

Dining and drinking and dancing are mere social responses to mass minds at Valentine's day. Many of these may have ended as ecstatic moments in some private places, but that is of no moment as long as these happenings fall within the context of St. Paul's concept of love as search for truth, or of Pope John's measure of responsibility to self, to the other person, and to God.

If these events fall short of these yardsticks they were nothing but bacchanalian revelries empty of import and damaging to the lovers themselves.
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