Monday, February 09, 2009

What does "love" mean to you?

Little is known about the "Valentine" that is the namesake of the upcoming St. Valentine's Day. In fact, "Valentine" was a relatively popular name in early Christian times, and there are any number of potential candidates for the origin of this holiday.

One thing we all agree upon, though, is that St. Valentine's Day is all about "love." But few people ever really explore what that means.

Ancient Greek actually had at least three different words for "love," each with a subtly different meaning. "Eros" refers to a passionate love, perhaps with physical attraction (hence our modern word "erotic") and a sense of sensual longing. "Philia" was the word for a familial-type of love. This is the love you feel for your family or close friends. We certainly would not confuse this with the sensual love of "eros," even though both concepts could be described by the same English word. Finally, "agape" (in New Testament usage) is the word for a love that is self-sacrificing, all-encompassing and totally committed. It is offered to everyone, friend and enemy alike. This is the love that Jesus felt for John, the beloved disciple, and it is the love that the Father feels for us.

All too often people equate Valentine's Day with the "eros" type of love, especially when you walk by "Victoria's Secret" or some other lingerie store. Rarely, if ever, do you see "philia" love celebrated on February 14. When was the last time you gave a Valentine's Day gift or card to your sibling? I personally think it would be wonderful to honor "philia" love on Valentine's Day by telling our family how much they mean to us.

But most of all I would like to encourage you to reflect upon "agape" love this Valentine's Day. How many people in this world can you truly say you would die for? Your spouse? Your children? How about your co-workers? The stranger on the street corner? Your worst enemy?

God exemplified the highest level of love for us on Good Friday. The example He set should remind us all of what true love really is. I believe we could stand to learn something from grade-schoolers and the way they celebrate Valentine's Day. Each child gives every other child a Valentine. The children are not related to one another, and they are certainly far too young for an erotic love. But they trade Valentines with each other, regardless of whether they get along every other day of the year or not.

This Valentine's Day I encourage you to celebrate by doing something loving for a complete stranger, or better yet for someone who has been unkind to you. Show the world what agape love is really all about. Remember that anything you do would be but a small token compared to the agape love that God has shown for you.

God bless you and happy Valentine's Day.

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