For the past month and a half, stores have been preparing for Valentine’s Day with discounts, sales, and a whole host of gimmicks to get the attention of men and women, both young and old. In essence, the retail world is trying to capture the hearts of its customers by leading them down the road where they will supposedly find . . . love, true love.
But what is true love? Can it be found in candy, jewelry, fancy dinners, and pink cut-out hearts? Each of these might assist in the process of loving another person. In fact, these little signs of intimacy can do a great deal in helping couples to show visible signs of their invisible love for one another. But no one would really argue that these material gifts manifest the essence of true love. So what is the sign of true love?
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 Jn 4:9–11)
Love, true love, is manifested on the Cross, where Christ showed us what the cost of love is. He who loved his own in this world (Jn 13:1) gave Himself up for His Bride, the Church (Eph 5:25). He laid down His life for her so that she might have life to the full. And it is this kind of love that men and women are called to imitate. St. Paul exhorts husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. Wives, in turn, are asked to respond to this love by working with the same mission as their husbands (Eph 5:24–25). In essence, St. Paul challenges husbands and wives to be mutually submissive to one another (Eph 5:21).
Non-married couples are also called to live by love that is sacrificial, yet in a way particularly their own. While some forms of love are appropriate only for marriage, non-married couples are still given the chance to practice sacrifice, both for one another as well as for the greatest object of all our love—God.
Today, the Church’s memorials of the saints bring this view of love to life. Ss. Cyril and Methodius were given such a profound love by the Lord that they left their homeland to travel to foreign lands in an effort to spread the faith to the Slavic nations. Moreover, this love so enraptured the heart of St. Valentine that he laid down his life for the Lord, in imitation of the Lord who had laid down His life for love of him.
By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 Jn 3:16)
Image: “Wait Till I Get Going!” (The Princess Bride, 1987)