The True Spirit of Valentine's Day
Frederick J. Parrella
Roses are red, violets are blue, and Valentine's Day celebrates love for ... who?
It's not just significant others.
Americans this year are expected to splurge $27.4 billion on gifts for partners, other family members, friends, co-workers, pets and more—up 32 percent from last year’s record $20.7 billion, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation.
Those celebrating the holiday said they plan to spend an average $196.31, compared to last year’s previous record of $161.96.
But when it comes to truly honoring romantic love, we reached out to SCU Professor of Religious Studies Frederick J. Parrella—who since 1983 has taught an ever-popular course on “The Theology of Marriage”—to help us put this day filled with love, and consumerism, into better perspective.
Here are some of his thoughts:
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.” These words of Thomas Merton, the famous Cistercian monk, were written more than a half-century ago and reflect the true spirit of Valentine’s Day. They also express an ideal of love sometimes lost in American culture. Love is often commercialized in every card store, candy store, and shopping mall from coast-to-coast. In short, love sells!
Genuine love lies at the deepest level of the person, taking us into the depth of the human heart. All types and forms of love involve the freeing of the self to be itself, for the self to be its authentic self by sharing, as Merton says, the meaning of life with another. If this is true, why do many people in our culture today appear trapped and confined in love’s commitment in a way that does not liberate the self the way it should?
Many people today who claim to be “in love” are unhappy and confused. Why does love sometimes no longer work its magic? Where is the lightness in the step of those who claim to be in love?
Let’s remember that the goal of love is not to feel good about oneself, but to rejoice and delight in the other. Love means putting our ego aside and opening our minds and hearts to the face before us, to the cheek we touch, to the lips we kiss. Nothing helps and develops our true self better than to discover the joy of life in and through another.
The real St. Valentine lived in the third century and was executed by the Roman Emperor around 270 C.E. He was a model of courtly love, kindness, and generosity. While we know very little about his life, we at least know this: his loving and caring nature would bring us renewed joy in all our loves on this February 14.
A little prayer to St. Valentine on his special day wouldn’t hurt, either.