Today is Valentine’s Day. This holiday has different meaning depending on who you ask. Some love it, others loathe it. The origins of the day are traced back to the death of Bishop Valentinus of Terni. He was executed by Emperor Claudius II of Rome because he refused to stop performing marriages, thus limiting the Emperor’s access to ready warriors since newlyweds were exempted for a period of time for serving in the military. (Full story here or here) This is a great day for me as it reminds me of the gift I have been given in my wife Angela. She has amplified and enriched my life in more ways than I could ever count. My relationship with her has proven to me over and over the idea that lies beneath what I am writing today. Love is a powerful, if not the most powerful, force in all of our lives, regardless of our feelings about this date on the calendar.
What we love influences everything that we do. It’s an engine deep within us that drives the decisions we make all throughout the day. Sometimes we are not even aware of what lies beneath our actions, but upon reflection we often find that it is love for something. It is why we make the decisions that we do. This doesn’t mean that all our decisions are good ones. Often we love ourselves more than others, which leads to self-centred decisions. We can love destructive behaviours or addictions and the feelings they bring to us, even though they lead to decisions that hurt us and those around us in the long run. The bottom line is we need to choose carefully what we love because love will propel our actions in a certain direction.
This has been brought home to me lately as I have been reading about the life of Pedro Arrupe. He was a Jesuit priest who died in 1991. I was drawn to him because he seems to be a nice blend of the contemplative (being with God) and the active (doing things for God). He drives home this point about our choice of loves in words far more eloquent than I could write. “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” This is not a new idea, he is only restating what the Bible says in Proverbs, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Prov. 4:23) Both Arrupe and the writer of Proverbs have realized something quite profound. Our loves drive our actions. At times that is quite a gift, because if we choose what we love wisely, it anchors our day to day decisions in something life giving and healthy. However, if our loves are disordered and self-centred, it can lead to actions that bring hurt to ourselves and the ones around us.
So how can we know what we love? We start by looking at what we are actually doing. Our actions will expose what we love. The words we use in that all day conversation we have with ourselves in our heads give us insight into what it is we are holding on to. What we see as we reflect can be good or bad, but at least it’s honest. The first step to making sure you love the right things is identifying what you actually love. So Valentine’s Day is a great day to remember those that you love. We should celebrate healthy and life-giving love. We don’t do it enough. But it can also be a time to reflect and to ask God to help us see what “loves” lie beneath our actions. That’s a crucial step on the spiritual journey.