Written on: February 8, 2019
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I think of poor Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip, who always longed to receive Valentines cards, especially from the little girl he had a crush on. But, it wasn’t meant to be for poor old Charlie Brown. How many people are there in real life who need affirmation and affection and either, like Charlie, don’t get it, or never get enough of it? An old song maintained, “Love is a many splendored thing.” Love is a many splendored thing but love is also very challenging, complicated, misunderstood, and sought after.
Extensive brain studies reveal that romantic love, that is the initial attraction between two people, releases chemicals in the brain that have similarity to those released by cocaine! Less possible to measure is what happens in the brain with altruistic love and, as you might guess, with love of God. St. Paul wrote some very memorable lines about love that lasts, love that is faithful, love that enables one to make sacrifices, love that reaches out to those in need:
Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil,but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up. Love is eternal. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)
Television and the internet provide us with other more shallow messages about love. Somehow, for example, love and Subaru are intimately linked. Should I worry that my Hyundai Elantra is not providing me with enough love? TV comedies and dramas often portray love as only sex, rather than sexuality as an important aspect of personality and sexual intercourse as an important expression of a loving relationship.
For Christians, Jesus is the model for real, true, compassionate love, and faithful love – love of one’s friends, love of anyone who needs us, love of God and God’s love for us. We “meet” Jesus often in others who have followed his example and embodied St. Paul’s description of love. For me, these include someone as familiar as my own mother or as famous as Dorothy Day, whose love of the poor, zeal for justice, and intense love of God led her to live an extraordinary life. We meet Jesus, too, in our Scriptures and in our prayer life. As a Catholic Sister, I have been fortunate to have the guidance of those who have showed me how to pray. Prayer is not just pouring out my heartfelt thoughts to God, but it is also listening hard to hear what God may be saying to me. My belief in God’s unfailing and unconditional love for me (and for each of us and all of us) makes that possible.
Recently I had a week off to make a directed retreat, a retreat made in silence except for daily liturgy, group spiritual prayer and centering prayer. An important component of such a retreat is a daily meeting with a trained spiritual director who helps me pay attention in the silence to what God is saying. The director, who may be male or female, cleric or religious or layperson, listens to me as I speak about what I may be experiencing in prayer. Then she or he may suggest a biblical passage for me to reflect on and pray about. These prayer suggestions and my prayer are, of course, always related to what is currently happening in my life. In the days after retreat, I try to continue setting aside regular time for personal prayer and prayer with other Sisters. My goal and that of all prayer is to know God’s great love for me and for the world and to imitate Jesus, God’s gift of love, by being, insofar as I am able, the presence of God’s love for others.
There are no valentines involved in my love affair with God through Jesus, but there is no end to the valentines God has sent me across the years from my family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and Sisters in community, who, loving me, have taught me to love. Who are your valentines?
Sister Eileen White, GNSH, regularly writes for the Bucks County Courier “From a Faith Perspective.” We are grateful to the BCC for allowing us to also publish her words here on our blog. Sister Eileen is currently a member of the GNSH Leadership Team after serving for many years at Dawn’s Place. Dawn’s Place is a safe house for women who have been victims of human trafficking.