Every year, Valentine’s Day comes around and few people know its meaning and how they should celebrate it.
They are told by media and commercial interests what it means and usually that is to buy gifts and it plays up the romantic notion. But for those people feeling excluded, lonely, abandoned and unloved, it’s not a happy time. To really love another is to put aside gratifying one’s selfish desires and help and care for others in need.
The Good Samaritan in the Gospel story is the best example of love that is meaningful and life-enhancing. He was an outcast in society but he risked his life to help a victim of violent abuse. His love was to help a stranger like a loving brother or sister and share his wealth for the life of another.
So it is time to think about the meaning of life and love. We need to examine the deeper, more enduring relationships that will give us more fully human experiences like married love, love of family and children, friendship and above all, the commitment to serve others for no reward. The Good Samaritan is the great example of this, the best kind of love of which human kind is capable.
An examination of conscience and a review of our behaviour towards others and ourselves is healthy and rewarding. We should ask if we are really caring for others or mostly satisfying ourselves. Too much unhappiness comes from broken homes, abandoned friendships, betrayal, selfishness and an egotistical life.
The greatest challenge is to strive towards the greatest love of all, the unselfish life of service that puts the care and needs of others before ourselves. It’s not easy but worth trying. Jesus of Nazareth showed us the way towards the highest form of love by his own life and example.
Of all great personalities in history, he stands out above all because of his ideals of love and because he offered them to humankind as a way to save themselves from evil, misery and unhappiness. He showed and taught them by example, by loving his friends, the poor, the wretched of the earth, the sick and the hungry and above all, the oppressed that hungered for justice and truth. His love was so genuine and pure that he took his unswerving and uncompromising stand for justice and human rights and he died for them.
He showed us the great love of friendship and that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. That’s what he did in the end. He called his disciples and helpers “friends”, not servants. In fact, that love of unselfish service extended not only to his friends and family but to the nation and the world. He showed us that leadership is based on humility and self-sacrifice. He got down on his knees and washed the feet of his band of brothers. Had there been a band of sisters, he would have done it too.
A truly caring leader is a servant, not a dominating tyrant ruling by force, threats or anger. The man from Nazareth brought this highest form of love into a very unloving world, one of cruelty and severe condemnation and unforgiving. His personality radiated compassion, concern, care and cure. His friendship was open to all who came calling, who trusted him and had faith in his integrity and honesty. The love he taught was one of self-sacrifice and not self-satisfaction.
In his life and friendship, there was no place for superiority or punishment, just giving respect and being open and available to all, irrespective of race, colour, age, gender, belief or religion, rich or poor. He was there for all who wanted to know him and be his friend and join his mission to change the world.
Genuine love of the poor, integrity and honesty and doing what is just and true is what is lacking in our political, economic, moral and religious leaders. That is why there is so much corruption and evil, poverty and injustice.
Many may present themselves as being religious when in fact they don’t follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth. They may perform rituals and rites but do not have the commitment to bring about community transformation and make this a happier and more just world. His ideal of love is not impossible for ordinary people to imitate. Hundreds of thousands of good people do live similar heroic lives and many have died for just causes serving the people as he did. Valentine’s day ought to celebrate more than romantic nonsense.
Fr. Shay Cullen