The world calls this the month of “love.” Poor St. Valentine! His name has become an excuse for everything but true love. People spend money on candy, flowers, high-end dining -- all the expensive toys and pursuits that mask the real meaning of love. On an even deeper and more serious level, people use the idea of “love” to exploit each other sexually, which always ends in either heartbreak or hardness of heart.
Here’s a little information I found on the history of the “real” St. Valentine (although the details are a little murky.) According to Father Frank O'Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, Valentine was a Catholic priest who lived in Rome during the 3rd century. It was a time of widespread promiscuity and "easy sex" -- much like today. The pagan Emperor Claudius was forbidding young Catholics to marry because he thought unmarried men made better soldiers if they didn’t have a family to worry about. Valentine refused to accept this, and secretly arranged to have young Catholics married. Well, his views on marriage got him in trouble with the government -- and he was beheaded.
The martyr Valentine made a stand for true love. Real love is patient and kind, not arrogant or selfish or exploitive. Somebody told me once that their favorite definition of love was, “Someone who gets up in the middle of the night to bring their spouse a glass of water.” It means putting the other person first.
Here’s a small but true story that puts love in perspective. A young couple eagerly awaited their wedding day and the happiness of their first night together. (This was before today’s era, when so many people have mixed up the proper order of marriage and sex.) But that evening, the young groom was overcome by a sudden attack of flu. It was so sudden and violent that it could have felled an army. Instead of romance, the young bride learned what it was to be a nurse and a comforter. Years later, the bride recalled:
“At the time, all we could think was what a disastrous way to start our married life together,” she said. “But later we saw God’s wisdom. He was teaching us the meaning of true love. My husband was humbled by sickness and I was humbled by having to become his servant. So much for being the center of attention a few hours before, as a gorgeous bride! Instead, we were blessed right away in our married life because we had to learn the meaning of selflessness, compassion and patience. To learn those things first, made all the joys of married life even sweeter.”
That couple was blessed to get their priorities straight, right from the beginning. But those qualities of true love, patience and kindness aren’t only found in married love. Every person on earth deserves love, because God loved that person from the beginning. He established the family unit as the first place where a human being should see that love reflected on earth. That’s why, at the Julia Greeley Home, women who have been alone and homeless are welcomed into a family-style home. Just like a family, it’s rambunctious at times, but hopefully grounded in mutual respect and patience, which are among the first fruits of love.
At Julia’s, we also refer a lot to a woman’s dignity. That’s another aspect of true love which gets lost in today’s world. By “dignity” we mean that when a person recognizes that she is worthy of being loved by God and by others, her whole sense of self worth rises -- not with pride, but with a quiet confidence.
I’ll be praying this month that everyone who reads this will experience, in some way, the meaning of true love. Be on the lookout for it!