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A Celebration of Love

Have you ever looked in the eyes of a mother, after giving birth to her child? If you stood close to her when she was in labor—the one without anesthetics, the natural labor—you would see her heaping curses at everyone. She would be screaming in absolute pain; at one point, she would experience emotional extremes of ups and downs. And when finally you hear the gentle, faint cry coming out of her womb, and watch child and mother, caught in an emotional and spiritual embrace, look into her eyes. And you will see why.

It’s Saint Valentine’s Day!

Few can appreciate that Valentine’s is actually the feast day of a saint. Even fewer can appreciate that this day should be one of the holiest of days, because, above all, this day was dedicated to the celebration of Love. We only know that this day is about special love cards, or sweet-smelling roses. We only have an indication of the importance of this day, though we don’t see it with our date, or families.

In Saudi Arabia, today, there is a ban on all things red. Many devout Muslims have shunned the celebrations as a “sinful day”, when we should be offering our love to God. They are both right, and wrong. When we celebrate Love, we do not only extend it to someone special. Although yes, it is a beautiful thing when two people come together, and embrace the natural Love, it is not its highest form. We suffer, and labor for a greater Love, and commit ourselves thus.

There was this movie about Dorothy Day. A liberal activist, she began to transform, and surprised her friends when she began doing acts of charity. It was a thankless task, and she suffered. She was at the point of losing faith, when she confronted one of her friends, who, bedraggled, rewarded her with ingratitude, and heaped insults on her.

But all she saw was her friend. Not herself, and not the physical and emotional torture that had wracked her for days. She just saw her friend. And she knew why. We could live the rest of our days not knowing why; we erroneously think that we seek Love to be happy, and to be fulfilled. And when we suffer at the hand of those we love, we begin to question our own faith in them, and our faith in Love. Why?

Have you ever looked in the eyes of a mother, after giving birth to her child? If you stood close to her when she was in labor—the one without anesthetics, the natural labor—you would see her heaping curses at everyone. She would be screaming in absolute pain; at one point, she would experience emotional extremes of ups and downs. And when finally you hear the gentle, faint cry coming out of her womb, and watch child and mother, caught in an emotional and spiritual embrace, look into her eyes. And you will see why.

As Christians, we are taught that to find true Love, we must seek Christ. Christ is the answer. We would see in our mind’s eye him carrying the Cross—and being nailed to it, this wooden instrument in Death, and we would remain puzzled. We feel like spectators, forced to watch an execution, again and again, until we could understand. Look beyond the jeers of the crowd, and the darkening of the skies. How did Christ win and the Devil lose? How were we saved, in his death? There in His eyes, is the answer. He bore to us the same adoration that that mother bore to her child.

That is the summit of Love. Agape. We are often taught that Christ’s self-sacrifice is the key. And from where we could see, it would seem unattainable. Do we have to suffer like this, nailed to the cross, blood staining our bodies, filled with heaviness and pain? Do we have to carry some physical cross, and be skewered by physical nails, to reach the Kingdom of God?

We’ve been guided to the path of Love, even in our birth. We’re invited to celebrate a Love natural in our humanity: Eros. We are called to tend in Love’s garden, and to serve the poor, the helpless, every member of our community, and our enemies: Filia. And we live the rest of our lives toiling, suffering, crying out in pain, living the happiest moments, and the most tragic ones, all in Love. Until finally, when shorn of our selves, when we are stripped of concern for our physical and spiritual sustenance, we finally realize why: for the object of our Love.

Lovers see it when one watches the other as she sleeps. Teachers see it when, in an empty classroom, she could see her students again, and understand why she has to live her life in continuous vocation. We see it in the saints, and the priests, who at a moment in their lives will receive a wondrous spiritual rapture. And we see it in Mother Teresa’s account, when, for decades-long spiritual drought, God appeared to her, and said, “Yes, it was worth it.”

This is Agape. Our object of affection. No longer do we see ourselves, or our acts of Love, but only the objects of our affection. “As long as I see you happy, I will be happy.” And we are overcome at the sight of such selfless act, that we are brought finally to tears.

That, however, is imperfect Agape. We have not yet realized whom we see in our object of affection; we also have not completely torn away our need of self. So long as we live, we shall be bound to our physical needs. As Christ set in His example, yes, so we have to die, in order that we may live in this final Love.

Nevertheless, we are called to extend this selfless Love, not only to Him, but also in all His creation. We are called to give ourselves up for the ones we love—family, friends, community and enemies—for they are all borne in the image of God. We are called to be in continuous spiritual labor for the love of God. That is why, though the glimpse of imperfect Agape is euphoric, indeed, still we must equally appreciate Eros, for these degrees of Love is Love nevertheless. They are indivisible; they are one.

We shall answer to them that yes, the Feast Day of Saint Valentine is a holy day. Yes, this day is one of the holiest of days, because it is the celebration of Love: its joys, its hardships, and its summit. And we must all be glad and raise our arms in thanksgiving, and imagine a strong, upbeat chorus in spiritual rapture, sing with all their voices:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound;

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind but now I see!

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

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