‘And some say love is holding on and some say letting go
Some say love is everything and some say they don’t know’
Perhaps Love, John Denver/ Placido Domingo
One can only imagine the amount of songs that have been written about love. This is not to mention all the love poetry and songs. Whilst he does not appear in the Church liturgical calendar, this week will see a big focus on St. Valentine. The first Valentine was a priest martyred under Claudius, the second was Bishop of Terni, killed around the same time, and the third we know nothing about, except that he died in Africa. The one that will dominate this week is most likely to be the second of these. There will be a lot of flowers, chocolates and cards bought, and a lot of money spent… and indeed money made! It has, as a celebration, become very commercialised. However before we slide into the holier than thou, or fall into the trap of cynicism, let us remember, for many, it remains about love. Perhaps that is the key question: is it about love? As the song says,
‘What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion’,
What’s Love Got to Do with It, Tina Turner
Is love much overrated, is it just a second emotion? The need to love and to be loved remains a powerful drive in our lives. When younger a large part of this drive is physical attractiveness. Our heads turn at the pretty woman or handsome man, then as life evolves we become aware that as well as the sexual aspect we have strong emotional needs. These include, to be known, to be understood and to belong. Whilst many are blessed to find high levels of satisfaction in this regard, many are left disappointed. Love is not always a sweet smelling rose, or if it is, it is not without thorns. Love comes at a price. Admittedly it is often a price that those who experience the joy of love are willing to pay. So are we saying that human love has it’s limitations? Well yes, in so far as it often fails to ‘stay the course’ and for those for whom it endures, there is indeed a price to be paid.
However for all it’s messiness, love can move from the ordinary to extraordinary. In fact love can be heroic. We see this in couples who encounter really difficult situations, such as serious illness, financial hardship and successive disappointments in life. Sometimes they even surprise each other with the deep well of mutual love that they discover they have to draw on. Sometimes you see this heroic love in people caring for an elderly relative. Mother Teresa lived a life of heroic love, and indeed urged her Sisters to ‘ love until it hurts!’ The challenge for us is the fact that each of us are called to this heroic love. We are called to love until it hurts. Actually we should not be waiting for the big moment, the major call to duty, but rather practise heroic love in small ways each day.
I hope I have not been too hard on romantic love. Love is cuddly, and gooey and your last rolo!! Of course this is to be enjoyed. I will never forget, many years ago, walking out into early morning snow, the sky was full of stars, daylight was just beginning, I felt so alive, so consumed with love. Thankfully that feeling did not melt with the snow and continues to swirl gently within my heart. I am not arguing against romantic love, nor in any way diluting it. It is beautiful. However I want to remind us, myself included, that we are called to at least try to imitate the love of Jesus. Of course this is a tall order. So here is a test I learned in my first days in the monastery:
Read 1 Cor 13: 1-13. Read it slowly and prayerfully, concentrating on the words
Love is patient, Love is kind, Love does not delight in evil…
Read the passage again slowly.
This time substitute your Christian name for the word Love.
It’s not so easy to read it this time. This will remind you, as it does me, that the Holy Spirit is still working on us, gradually enabling us to love like Jesus.
Maybe that’s too much. Here is a much simpler test. Just think for a moment about a conversation you have had in the past few days, maybe with your husband or wife, maybe with a friend over coffee. What percentage of that conversation was all about you? Another question might be what percentage of the time in the conversation, was actually your moan? (We are all entitled to a bit of a moan, but it should be rare and reasonably short). If you find most of your conversations tend to be more about you than the other, perhaps this is a little nudge towards heroic love. Heroic love like heroism in general, is usually built on little steps. Heroic love heals, restores and forgives.