Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer fully reveals man to himself (John Paul II)
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - Thursday, February 14, 2012, is Valentine's Day. It is one of the most popular of our predominantly secular holidays in the West. Before you assume I am going to join in the critiques of the holiday in some Christian circles by decrying its commercialism, or assume I will try to find some way of confirming the existence of a verifiable St Valentine in order to situate the day within a religious message, please read on. .
Who knows? Maybe there really was a St Valentine.The various accounts point in that direction. Maybe attempting to give that kind of a religious ground to the day through hagiography has merit. And, maybe there is value to critiquing the commercialism which has accompanied the day. However, it seems quite apropos in a culture being suffocated by a materialist ethic precisely because it has lost its soul and forgotten God.
My effort in this article is to take an entirely different approach. I want to suggest that Valentine's day is a cultural barometer and an invitation to mission.
My beloved wife of thirty seven years, best friend, mother of our five children and "Mimi" to our six grandchildren, has a birthday on February 13th. So, I regularly find myself in a card store in the midst of the frenzied crowd searching for Valentines cards every year. I always get one, along with the Birthday cards, and this year was no different. What was different was the massive size of the crowd and the fact that these two days also fell at the beginning of an early Lent.
I have been a Deacon of the Catholic Church for seventeen years and this liturgical season has become a special time for reflection, repentance and deep examination of conscience. This year, my experience of the size of the crowd encouraged more than irritated me. I saw men and women who are hungering to express their love. It brought to mind these words from Blessed John Paul's first Encyclical Letter, the Redeemer of Man:
"Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer "fully reveals man to himself". (Gaudium et Spes, 22)
"If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly "expressed" and, in a way, is newly created. He is newly created!"
The truth is that we were all created out of love and for love. We came into being as a great creative act of Love. The God who is Love, a Trinitarian communion of perfect love in perfect unity, fashioned us in His Image and invited us to respond in love. Redemption is a re-creation in Jesus Christ, who is Love Incarnate. The beloved disciple John who wrote the most cited words of the Gospel which bears his name, "God so loved the world that he sent His only Son" (John 3:16) also wrote in his beautiful first epistle that God is Love and he who lives in love lives in God, and God in Him" ( 1 John 4:16)
The New Testament was written in Greek, a language which has several words to speak of different kinds of love; the love between husband and wife; the love between family members; the love between friends; and the Love of the God. It also has a word to describe the greatest act of Love, the condescension of love, the great self emptying love of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, English does not.
However, all human love participates in and is perfected by God's love. In other words, the very need for love is a need for God. It is written into our spiritual genetic code. Our very hunger for love is meant to draw us back to the One who is the Source, the goal and the fulfillment of all love.
So, on this Valentine's Day, I suggest the fact that the Holiday seems to be growing in popularity is a form of cultural barometer. It shows us that no matter how secularized the culture has become, the hunger for love is an invitation to live the message of the fullness of God's Love in a visible, compelling and attractive way. This age is populated by men and women who are primed for the Gospel precisely because they are so parched for the fullness of love we have to offer.
I further suggest that, as with past missionary ages, we reconsider the haranguing concerning Valentine's Day and "baptize" it. A proper approach to inculturation invites us to consider how this secular holiday can be Christianized. How can it be used as a part of our missionary approach at the beginning of the Third millennium? I do not believe we live in a post Christian West. Rather, we live in a Pre-Christian West. The huge crowds in that card store reveal the field which is ripe for the harvest.
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