Saturday, February 12, 2011

Forget About Me, I Love You!

I received an email this week with some children’s one-liners for Valentine’s Day. Here are some of the gems. What did the caveman give his wife on Valentine’s Day? Ughs and kisses! What did the boy sheep say to the girl sheep on Valentine’s Day? I Love Ewe! What did the stamp say to the envelope on Valentine’s Day? I’m stuck on you! What did the boy owl say to the girl owl on Valentine’s Day? Owl be yours! What do farmers give their wives on Valentine’s Day? Hogs and kisses! I know, those are bad!

Of course, Monday is Valentine’s Day. The big day for couples to express their love for one another in traditional external ways – chocolates, flowers, a nice dinner, perhaps a gift. Valentine’s Day is celebrated almost everywhere in the world. But in much of the world it is celebrated very differently than we do here in the West. Where in our country, people focus their attention on only one person as their Valentine, in many other countries throughout the world, the focus of this day is celebrated in a more expansive way. In these places, people give Valentine cards and gifts to their parents, their sisters and brothers, their teachers, friends, and even their priests. In these places, it’s a broader celebration of the many kinds of love we celebrate moment-to-moment and day-to-day, not exclusively a celebration of romantic love.

So, what does today’s Gospel have to say to us about Valentine’s Day? Well, even though today’s readings are not intended for Valentine’s Day, they do have something to say to us. We heard in Matthew’s Gospel today, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” This passage reminds us that all of those we love are our spiritual brothers and sisters and that because of that, we have a shared responsibility for holiness and righteousness to one another. Those who we love and who love us are also our brothers and sisters in faith and companions on our spiritual journey to God. A good love relationship should recognize this spiritual dimension and make room for its adequate expression.

I’m generally not a regular viewer of Oprah Winfrey, but I remember a show last year that she did focused on women trying to find a husband. Many of them said the things you’d expect – they wanted someone rich, or important, or good looking or funny. But one woman floored me. When asked what she was looking for in a man, she said, “I’m looking for a man who knows that he needs to love God more than he loves me.” So many couples, and not just couples, tend to share everything in their lives except their spiritual lives. Many people on Monday will make arrangements – some of them quite elaborate – to wine and dine in a good restaurant, or to go and watch a good movie together, but they rarely think of going to church or taking a few moments of prayer together as part of their Valentine’s Day celebration. When we recognize one another first and foremost as brothers and sisters in faith, then there is always room for praying and sharing faith together to support each other spiritually.

We also heard in the Gospel, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This passage invites us to reflect on how we approach love. Is our approach focused on ourselves, “What have you done for me lately?” Or is our love focused on the other, “What can I do for you to make you happy?” One is selfish, one is self-giving. We can all probably name countless examples of the selfish form, but we are called to live love in a way that is self-giving. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of a totally self-giving love, and we are called to emulate that in our own lives and relationships.

There is a famous O. Henry story that talks about this spiritual love focused on the other. It tells the story of two young people deeply in love, Della and Jim. Their Anniversary was quickly approaching, but the couple was desperately poor. There were only two possessions that they took pride in. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. As the author describes it, “Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the street, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard with envy.” To commemorate their anniversary, Della dreamed of being able to buy Jim a beautiful gold chain to hold the watch he treasured so dearly and Jim hoped to buy a beautiful scarf that Della could wrap around her beautiful hair. Neither had the money, but their love impelled them to find a way.

Della’s plan was to visit the local hairdresser and asked how much they would give for her hair. In mere moments, her beautiful hair was gone, but she had $25 dollars in her purse to buy her special gift. At the same time, Jim also had a plan to buy his wife the beautiful scarf that he knew she would love. He would sell his watch, as precious as it was to him, so he could surprise Della with the gift. As they exchanged their gifts, they realized what the other had done – given that which was most precious to them because their love was so great. Each one had only one question in mind: What can I do to make him or her happy?

I can’t help but think of an acronym for the word FAMILY that sums up the type of love we’re meant to share and celebrate. FAMILY stands for Forget About Me, I Love You. This is what our Gospel is about; this is what our common faith – the faith that makes each of us brothers and sisters in Christ – is all about. Let our prayer be as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, as we celebrate the many loves in our lives, that God help us to be truly loving men and woman who live a love that says, forget about me, I love you.

May God give you peace.

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