On this Valentine’s Day we can expect to see the cherubic yet mischievous Cupid poised with his bow and arrow adorning cards, chocolates and advertisements. Cupid comes from Roman mythology and was believed to be the son of Venus, the goddess of love.
Along with hearts, Cupid is one of the most popular symbols of love on Valentine’s Day. And although he’s undeniably adorable, Cupid represents a worldly interpretation of love that falls terribly short of Christ on the cross, the true symbol of love the world needs.
Cupid’s arrows signify the desires and emotions of love. People who have fallen in love are said to have been “struck by Cupids arrow.” As such, love is an experience that happens to us and is spontaneous. We fall victim to feelings of warmth and desire and we fall prey to a love that is uncontrollable.
This stands in stark contrast to the Christian model of love exemplified by Christ dying on the cross. We know from Scripture that Christ knew his enemies were coming to put him to death. Moreover, one could surmise he didn’t “feel” like making the ultimate loving sacrifice and yet, he did. We know from the Gospels that Jesus was in anguish preparing for what was to come. He cried out; “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want but what you want” (Mk 14:35-36; Mt 26:39).
So why was he willing to do God’s will anyway? Because even in his feelings of abandonment and turmoil he was dependent and committed to God first. Jesus made a moral choice to cooperate with God’s plan. This choice was given freely and not earned by anyone and is the ultimate display of self-sacrificial love.
But Christ on the cross isn’t an attractive image or a version of love that the masses are in a rush to emulate. Consider one of Hallmark’s top love quotes: “You are my everything. Everything else is just … everything else.” This quote ironically encapsulates the limitations of worldly love.
This kind of love is exclusive and even oppressive and grants too much power to another person. Such a love has no higher authority than the individuals involved. Regarding another person as one’s “everything” makes a God of the other person and will end in disappointment and a damaged sense of self.
Conversely, the love of Christ is inclusive and offers freedom. Soren Kierkegaard explained it this way: “Only when it is a duty to love, only then is love eternally secured against every change, eternally made free in blessed independence, eternally and happily secured against despair.” Doesn’t that type of love offer a better alternative to the picture-perfect worldly love that usually ends in divorce?
The difference between the world’s love and Christ’s love is the difference between appearances and truth. On this Valentine’s Day let’s pray that Christians strive to love “truly” like Jesus did rather than seek a love that satisfies fleeting desires and self-affirmation. Though we will never succeed in this life to love as perfectly as Jesus did we will have opportunities to love truly as he does.
This love may look unattractive. It may be taking care of an ailing elderly parent. It may be tirelessly caring for a child with autism. It may be working and going to school as a single parent. It may be feeding a stranger.
But loving this way will transform us the way Cupid’s love never can. Rather than our hearts being “struck by Cupid’s arrow,” our souls will be pierced by God’s saving grace.
Kim Griffin is a member of the Parish of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia.