Understanding Love on Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine’s Day! Although this was a day that originally celebrated a 4th century martyred priest, St. Valentine, who obviously loved Jesus Christ above all else, even life itself, it has transformed into a day celebrating the love we have for our spouses and the dearly beloved in our lives. It’s a day of love.

Of course, it has become a sentimental and expensive day of love, as one can see in our materialistic and consumeristic American society where this year alone we will spent over 19 billion dollars in gifts (which is 3rd in holiday spending, behind only Christmas and Mother’s Day). Yet, it can also be a time to soberly reflect on our love for others, and on what love actually means.

Love is obviously the greatest and most desired virtue of life. No matter what we accomplish in life, or what we amass, all will mean very little if our efforts aren’t done in the spirit of love, and if our lives aren’t filled with relationships of love. The Apostle Paul summarized the centrality of love beautifully when he wrote

Even though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And even though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have such faith as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I sacrifice my own body, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Love is the center of life. Love is the source of life. This explains why we understand God as Love Itself, and Jesus Christ as love incarnate. He is the source from which all healthy and life-giving love springs.

Now, in the English language we really only have one word for love, and this lack of linguist depth can lead us to misunderstanding love. We say we love God, we love our spouse, we love our mother, we love a friend, we love our dog, we even love a good steak. Wow, the same word describing quite different emotions of affection. In Greek, however, there are four more precise words which explain the different loves we experience in life.

There is storge love, which is our familial love. I hope we all have experienced the affectionate love of parents and siblings and relatives. This is the first love we encounter in our lives, and is a key to all future types of love. When we experience healthy, nourishing love from our family, we receive the basis on which we can understand other loves.  On this Valentines Day, let us express our gratitude for such storge love.

A second love we all experience is filia love, which is the love of friendship. How much richer and blessed our journey is when we have a few true friends, faithful companions with whom we can share the joys and challenges of life. My brother just today wrote a beautiful poem on friendship.

A person who accepts you as you are

And still raises you up like a bright star.

She accepts your vices and celebrates your strengths

And seeks to spend time with you at great lengths.

She knows how you feel by just your sight

And is not afraid to be honest and risk a fight.

She is there to provide the warm light

When you encounter a long dark night.

A good friend does not fear

To be with you when you shed a tear.

The ultimate gift from above

Given to those who show their true love.

She encourages you to work hard to succeed

And provides support for you to lead.

There is nothing more valuable than a true friend

Far more precious than gold or any trend.

On this Valentine’s Day, let us express our gratitude for such filia love.

(Nicholas A Veronis)

Of course, the most common expression of love on Valentine’s Day is that of eros love. This is the passionate and erotic love one has for their partner, their soulmate, their spouse. How rich is life when one finds a person with whom to journey throughout life, sharing all of life’s joys and challenges in the most intimate way, and bearing beloved children who will be the fruit of your intimate love. Not everyone is blessed to experience such love in the healthiest way, but for those who have, they realize this priceless and eternal treasure. On this Valentine’s Day, let us express our deep gratitude for such romantic love.

All these loves surely make life more beautiful and meaning, enriching our journey throughout the years. But the greatest of all loves is something even more than our affectionate love, our friendship love and our romantic love. The greatest love is known as agape. This is a love that goes far beyond our emotions and is controlled by our will. We may not like someone, but God calls us to love them, including loving even our enemies. How can one love an enemy when our emotions are totally against them? Well, this is the essence of such agape love. It is an act of the will. As C.S. Lewis explains it, “Agape Love in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion.  It is a state not of feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people… Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

To love with agape love means to love with a conscious effort, regardless of how the other responds. It really doesn’t matter how the other responds, because agape calls us to treat them with kindness, goodness, and charity nonetheless. This is the divine love with which God loves each one of us, and this is the divine love with which God calls each of us to live. So on this Valentine’s Day, let us express deep gratitude for such agape love.

Storge love, Friendship love, Romantic love, and Agape love. Today on Valentine’s Day, let us reflect on each of these loves, and let us thank all those who have offered us these different types of love throughout our lives.

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