By: Natalie J. Plumb
Some look forward to it with quiet anticipation. Some aren’t so quiet.
Some people think it’s so useless of a “celebration” that they defiantly ignore it and encourage others to do the same. Still others use it as an excuse to make yet another day of the 365 in the year something special — and the day’s name alone is not the reason.
Of course, I’m talking about Valentine’s Day — forever a subject of debate and scrutiny.
I’ve been asking myself for years which of these perspectives, among the scores of other varying perspectives, makes the most sense as a young woman feeling pressure to have some sort of opinion.
Commercialization and marketing nag almost all of us, and so I should protest. Love and expression of that love are worthy things “to think on” (Phil 4:8), and so they should always be encouraged and expressed; therefore, I should look forward to it. On the other hand, one “made-up” day in my life is so inconsequential to me, so it’s really not that big of a deal, and I should have no opinion at all.
After years of experiencing Valentine’s Day — with a date I didn’t call a boyfriend, with a boyfriend, and as a single woman — I must say that I truly have come no closer to knowing how to interpret it. It remains puzzling. Love remains puzzling.
And maybe that’s why the subject of Valentine’s Day continues to intrigue minds and draw hearts — you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s a small mystery.
I would dare to say, at the risk of people misinterpreting a Catholic as trying way too hard to be politically correct, that all of these positions have some merit.
If you fall under the “this is the most useless holiday I’ve ever heard of” category, then maybe you’re truly just saving yourself from a lot of heartache. You have zero expectations or desires; you won’t get hurt; you won’t be feeding the commercialization of it all; nobody seems to get disappointed.
If you fall under the “OMG I’m so excited!!!!!!” category, then you’re probably already planning something that will make the day a day to remember. You know who you are or aren’t spending it with; you’re going to make the most of it; it’s truly like a holiday to you; you may even receive something beautiful and special because you’ll treat yourself or a loved one will treat you.
If you fall under the “this is another ordinary day during which I can continue to show my love to my love” category, I think you are a rare species, and that makes you pretty awesome. You have your priorities straight and know that you can’t really mess this day up because you naturally treat your significant other with love, day in and day out; you just make this day another reason to continue to do that; it’s really no sweat off your back.
All of these positions have their pros and cons. But like any good Catholic, I don’t think this universal “everything goes” position is all that useful, helpful or wise. It all depends on your situation, history with the holiday, and personality as to how you choose to celebrate it, or not celebrate it. But one thing we can all agree on, if we choose to truly be human, and express that humanity, is to love.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).
Valentine’s Day is not necessarily “honorable,” or “pure,” or even “lovely.” But the virtue upon which it attempts to concentrate most certainly is — love. I don’t mean love as a feeling. I mean love in its biblical understanding, love as a choice to sacrifice for the Beloved:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:12).
Despite any potential abhorrence for the holiday, there is no harm in loving someone. I think this day, when taken with an open heart, and when simply considered as a reminder to love, can only mean something positive. Because any action centered around the choice to love one another is directly obeying Our Father in His divine command to do so:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:30-31).
“This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn 4:21).
We have a good two weeks ahead of us to think about this: Whom should I love? Everyone, yes. But who should you make a special choice to love on Valentine’s Day, and the days before and after, and for the rest of your life?
Love does not have to be romantic. Love is never as simple or narrow-minded as that.
Your grandparents may need a hand or just to be taken out of their home and treated. Your parents even, especially if alone, may need a bit of love and joy on a day they may not look forward to. That friend you really miss could use a call. Your pal who just went through a break-up might need some care or a movie night. Maybe your coworker needs a hug. Maybe the homeless person on the street just wants to have a conversation, or for you to simply ask for his or her name. Your siblings and cousins might need a visit if they’re alone. Maybe a relationship is suffering and you need to seek forgiveness, or to forgive. The list is endless…
Who needs your love? Whom do you need to love? The benefits go both ways:
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great” (Lk 6:35).
“If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow — to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him…No man will be able to stand against you” (Dt 11:22-25).
I don’t think we should give people a “pass” on Valentine’s Day to write it off as something cheesy or disingenuous. I don’t think the sole perception of the day as “a commercial rip-off” or “not worth my time” should slide. If you choose to do so, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think you are missing a great opportunity to love.
I think we should be a generation that seizes the day, with its imperfections and qualities, and extract the good that can come of it. Isn’t that what Christ does with us? Doesn’t He find some good in us, through all our imperfections and failures? Do we want to deny Him that opportunity to work through us on a day when many have no expectations, but still many others seek desperately a taste of love, often in wrong places when we do not act? Will we deny others our love?
“And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12:33).
I think this command holds gravity: All of your heart. All of your understanding. All of your strength. We have no right to give anything less than all of ourselves in loving one another.
Valentine’s Day, if taken as simply another opportunity, another day, another reminder, to love one another, could have a ripple effect on our world, which so often lacks the virtue of love.
May our love bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (1 Cor 13:7)…until we can love no more.
Natalie writes about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.