Valentines and Value

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and so I thought I would write a post in preparation. I suppose I could have written a piece and released it on the actual day itself, but I want to look at this holiday from a slightly different angle and suggest an idea for something that each of us could do on February 14th.

When I was thinking about what to write that might suit this theme, the usual ideas came to mind: of love and relationships, of being alone and finding trust in a period of waiting, or of being with another while maintaining one’s own identity and self-respect. And yet I realized I was confining myself to topics revolving around romantic relationships, which we typically associate with Valentine’s Day. The origins of Valentine’s Day, however, do not suggest such a restriction. The holiday began in honour of St. Valentine, a Christian martyr in 5th century Rome, and associations with romantic love were not forged until the 14th century under the influence of Chaucer and his courtly circle.

In our contemporary society, Valentine’s Day seems to be defined by its connection to romantic love, or conversely, to the opposite of romantic love: that is, singlehood. We are burdened with images of romantic love, but also with catchy slogans about how it is okay to be single and how a person does not need another person to complete their life. It is probably not possible to dissipate these now tightly held associations, and I am not trying to suggest that the erasure of such links would be a good thing. But, what if Valentine’s Day did not have to be just about one or the other?

If we go back to the original Valentine (the aforementioned saint, about whom not much is known), we might be able to widen the realm of associations. St. Valentine was a martyr, and put simply, a martyr is someone whose love for Christ is so great that they value this more highly than their own life. To sacrifice all the pleasures and comforts of earthly existence for love of something higher is a very pure form of love indeed. Regardless of one’s beliefs or judgements about whether a certain cause is worth dying for, they must acknowledge the power and veracity of such a love. To recapture this spirit of Valentine’s Day, I don’t think it is necessary that we all become martyrs like the original saint. However, maybe we can find a little added strength and devotion from this self-sacrificing love.

I am of the belief that all true love (of any form and in any form of relationship) must necessarily involve sacrifice. It does not follow that this sacrifice must always take the same shape. Sometimes it might be a very small sacrifice. In fact, sometimes the sacrifice might even be invisible, to everyone but God and the person who is making the sacrifice. Maybe instead of channeling all our thoughts into either romantic relationships or the idea that they are not necessary, we could think about how we can incorporate sacrifice into all of our relationships: be they those with family, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers.

For a sacrifice to stem purely from love, it must have a strong centre. If it is based on desire for appearance and reputation, or on fear of failure and disapproval, the sacrifice might become hollow and can easily be shaken so that it is detached from love. Instead, sacrifice should come from a centre of value: that is, a recognition and appreciation of the value of another person, for who they are and not for what they are to us.

With this in mind, I want to share one of my very favourite quotes, one I repeat to myself often and try to remember as I go about my daily activities. It is from the philosopher Josef Pieper in his book (which I highly recommend), “Faith, Hope and Love.” In the book, Pieper writes that for love to be truly authentic, it must involve this expression from the lover to the beloved: “It is good that you are! How wonderful that you exist!”

Read those words a few times and think about them, first in relation to yourself. We must recognize the value of our own existence before we can selflessly pour value into the existence of others. Then think about these words in relation to some of the people that you know. Think about the power these words could have if we really heard them from someone who believes them, and then, in turn, believe them ourselves. They are not words we must guard jealously or words which we can only give to one particular “beloved.” They are words we can give whenever we take the time to look and truly see another person, loving them for their weaknesses as well as their unique gifts, seeing in them a reflection of the face of God, an aspect of Him that is not repeated in any other human being.

What if we turned to the people in our lives this Valentine’s Day and said these simple words? It is good that you are! How wonderful that you exist! I believe that a seemingly small piece of affirmation like this one can truly make a difference of great love, in the lives of the people around us, and in our own lives as well.