Today is St. Valentine's Day. Although watered down with sentimentality, candy hearts, lace and obligatory remembrances, it is the only generally recognized holiday that celebrates Love. (Isn't it too bad that there's no day for Hope or Faith?)
What can we do with this day? One thing, ably highlighted by Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, is to consider the way in which God has designed human love -- especially that between husband and wife -- to reflect the loving relationship we have with Him. The nuptial love illustrated in the Song of Songs is a little uncomfortable for some Christians as if it's a heady draught of wine that might make us cough. But it's a pale shadow of the deep passion with which the Lord regards us, his Bride and most treasured creation. He wants to give and give, and he gives us the privilege of giving what he does not need -- love of Him in return.
For a long time, if you had asked me whether I loved God, I would have been a little lost. Oh, I would have articulated an appropriate answer, but I would be reduced to looking at my own behavior for clues to the bewildering question. "Let's see, I love the Church, I appreciate God's gifts, but I sin regularly and am more worried about being found out by others than by Him. Hmmm. I don't know." The love and passion shown in the writings of the great saints seemed as far beyond me as leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Many of us measure our relationship with God by how frequently we go to Mass or Confession, our almsgiving, or even (insidiously) how strongly we take a stand against fellow Christians with whose doctrine or practices we disagree. We're missing the point.
It is not the Father's desire that we stand in the foyer eating dried out canapés instead of coming inside for the feast. He wants to be personal with us, to embrace and offer comfort, to feed and to bless. C.S. Lewis talked about our inclination to settle for crumbs: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." Our desires are not too strong; they are too weak. Our capacity for loving and receiving love is far too small for the love that is offered us. We try hard to be content with the inch of water in our buckets while we should be expectantly petitioning God to flood us and give us a bigger bucket. Think of his delight when he hears us tell him that we want to love him more and to experience his love more fully every day!
In the Epistle of St. James we read, "You do not have because you do not ask." We can't stir up awareness of God's love or feelings of affection on our own. But we can ask the Father who loves us to do this work in us. What better time than Lent to take this opportunity to be drawn closer to the heart of God? What have we got to lose?