While riding on a crosstown bus several years ago, I was treated to an impromptu sermon on the proper way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
The preacher was a middle-aged woman who enumerated, for both her cowed companion and her fellow commuters, which gifts she deemed acceptable along with her restaurant preferences.
“And make sure the flowers don’t get delivered to the neighbors’ house,” she concluded loudly.
I remember thinking at the time that I’d have been grateful just to get a few Hershey’s Kisses for the occasion. I’d been pestering St. Jude with nonstop novenas for a mate, all to no avail, and I mentally clucked my tongue at the woman for what I perceived as her selfishness and ingratitude.
A few decades later and quite happily single, though, I see Valentine’s Day through different eyes — ones that aren’t as clouded by the world’s spotty view of love and who may attain it.
In the age of the Instagram pout, where images are carefully cropped and corrected, Valentine’s Day often caps a quest to win affection through physical perfection, or at least through some clever photo editing.
Even if you don’t quite have the desired proportions — maybe you’re a bit overweight or your nose is “too big” — as long as you look happy, you’re considered to be loved. Likes, follows, retweets and comments all affirm your worth as a person. And to “stay human,” you’ll need to post often: pictures of your perfect meal, trip, family gathering, house, engagement ring, spouse, child.
But those images don’t show love in its best light, I’ve found.
The more I’ve encountered the Lord in prayer, in Scripture and in the Eucharist, the more I find him in places the world dismisses.
I’ve seen love in the harried face of a single mom dropping off her child at school, and then rushing to her office for another long day at her desk, working to provide for her family.
I’ve seen love in the eyes of a subway attendant who gazes kindly at streams of often surly passengers, helping those frustrated by jammed turnstiles and train delays.
I’ve seen love in the smiles of intellectually disabled men and women, who speak a language of the soul that transcends earth’s frail syllables.
I’ve seen love in a man “pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity” (Is 53:5), one who “had no majestic beauty to catch our eye” (Is 53:2), but who “bore the punishment that makes us whole” (Is 53:5), and by whose wounds we are truly healed.
And that realization is something sweeter than chocolate, more fragrant than roses, more lasting than diamonds — because it is the love of Jesus Christ himself, the best Valentine ever.
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