I was a bit surprised when my companion showed interest in the Valentine’s Day trinkets on sale at the shopping mall – after all, he was a Catholic Bishop! In my country Valentine’s Day is a highly commercialized celebration of romantic love but in my shopping companion’s country, the Philippines, it is a time when people express their love and appreciation to family and friends as well as romantic partners.
We need a bigger vision of love – a love that is expressed not only in domestic life but also in the social, cultural, political and economic dimensions of life.
The Australian Bishops have released a St Valentine’s Day Kit which reclaims the Saint in St Valentine’s Day and focuses on supporting marriage. It is a worthy effort. St Valentine didn’t help young lovers to buy each other roses and chocolates – he helped them to marry!
Marriage is not a purely private matter. It is a public commitment and one which is impacted by public policy. When St Valentine helped couples to marry in defiance of an imperial ban on marriages, which was aimed at ensuring the availability of young men for the armies of empire, it was an act of civil disobedience. Valentine held up love and life over and above the demands of the state and the making of war.
In Caritas in Veritate Pope Benedict XVI describes the whole of Catholic Social Teaching as the proclamation of the truth of God’s love in society (n 5). Love goes beyond simply giving others their due. When we love someone we do more than simply recognising and respecting their legitimate rights. Love goes beyond justice. It gives and forgives, it seeks the good for the other. It is marked by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion (n 6).
Benedict XVI calls us to a bigger love – one that seeks the good of all of us, the common good.
When we build up the common good through the structures, institutions and processes of our societies, we are expressing love in an institutional or political way (n 7). Benedict even calls for an economy animated by love and the logic of gift or gratuity.
This bigger concept of love, which our world so desperately needs, is not all roses and chocolates – it requires a steadfast committment. Are our hearts big enough to move beyond romance and embrace everyone and everything that God has created?