A friend even more cynical than I (a horrifying prospect, I know) declared that there should be no mention of the holiday today, but I can’t resist commenting on what is probably the most overblown of all Hallmark holidays. Even though on the liturgical calendar February 14th is the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian (and today it happens to be the sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time), for the rest of the world it is Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air.
My guess is many of us wouldn’t find the holiday so odious if not for the sappy and absurd commercials that abound in the weeks leading up to the holiday. We are told just how to show people that we love them, with consequences for failure to comply often implied. Everyone’s focus narrows on that aspect of love that is romantic love, exclusively between two people.
It doesn’t surprise me that a media which wants to control us focuses on that piece of love’s wide expanse. Love in its totality, love that makes missions and martyrs, that drives us to creativity and to creation, is far too powerful for the powers-that-be to promote or even acknowledge. One of the most famous quotes from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin predicts “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Another quote about love (one that has begun to tire me a little, I hate to say) is the famous Arrupe quote which ends “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” I am so lucky that most of the people with whom I work, live and socialize, are driven by love. Love manifests as commitment to a cause, to other people, to justice, to art, to learning. As I have tried over the last few years to make my commitments more intentional I have realized that the main reason I have over-committed myself throughout my life is that I really do love people and I am always trying to expand the circle of my service so that I can work with greater and greater numbers.
Today’s Gospel ends with this: “woe to you who are rich,for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” I’m sure many preachers today will be connecting that with the theme of Valentine’s Day, and here’s my contribution to the cause. What frustrates me the most about the mythology of love surrounding this holiday is that it suggests a perfection that is never really possible. Flowers, candy, jewelry, and even other people will never meet our deepest desires. When we imagine that our lives are perfect, like those rich and fulfilled in today’s Gospel, we close ourselves off to the transformative love of God which only meets us in our need. When we distract ourselves with a million other things that we think will satisfy us, we deny the truth and the virtue of the yearning that drives us forward to greater communion and greater service in love.