For the Heart…
The color red, countless hearts, Cupid and his bow, candy and roses all indicate that the day dedicated to those in love has arrived. The association of lovers with St. Valentine’s Day goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages in England and France. February the 14th is around the time of year when birds would find mates, so this day also seemed appropriate for two people to show signs of that love.
Yet, despite our celebration of Valentine’s Day, do people still believe in the possibility of a lasting love?
We definitely think a lot about love. La Bohème, Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story, the poetry of John Donne and countless other poems, songs and dramas throughout history have continuously revealed that to love and to be loved is our deepest desire. How many times has a young man looked into a young woman’s eyes on a starry night and promised to be hers ‘forever’? That promise, converted into a life-long commitment in marriage, has the power to bring about life: newborn life and a fuller and richer life for each other as companions on a journey.
Yet, if this life of love is so wonderful and so greatly desired, why does it seem so difficult to achieve? About half the marriages in America end in divorce. Prenuptial agreements, settling the terms for an eventual separation, show resignation to an imminent divorce. Domestic violence affects countless people. Fewer people are tying the knot, and more and more people are simply living alone. It seems that in our culture with so many broken homes and broken hearts that we have decided that it is better simply not to risk it: “I’ve been hurt before.”
So, to satisfy desires we settle for ‘friendships with privileges,’ ‘hooking up,’ cohabitation, or pornography. The problem is that while these stopgap measures may bring momentary pleasure, they will not bring us lasting happiness. Furthermore, these substitutes for love not only put off commitment to a life-long love, but make it harder for one to commit later in life.
How then can we build a loving relationship that lasts?
One key ingredient is to understand what love actually is. Love is not a feeling. Feelings come and go. Love is self-donation; it is a decision to put the other first. St. Augustine summed up one of the central questions of life as “a struggle between two kinds of love: between the love of God unto sacrifice of self, and self-love unto the denial of God.” However, the same could be said about human love: either love of the other unto the point of self-sacrifice, or love of self to the point of sacrificing the other. How admirable to see the love of a mother, a father, a friend or a professor who always seems to be there for others.
Additionally, you must train yourself to love. To give yourself you must possess yourself, which means self-control of one’s whims and desires for the good of the other. If a young man or woman has the habit of simply doing what feels good in the moment, he or she will not be capable of persevering when love becomes difficult. Nevertheless, to grow into a mature and self-giving love, even amidst the difficulties, is something beautiful.
Finally, rely on God’s grace. Our Lord, source of love and marriage, offers us his help. That is why he made marriage between two Christians a sacrament. The habits of prayer, individually and as a couple, regular Mass attendance and confession are crucial to growing closer to God and to each other.
Do not give up on love. It is possible. As Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully stated: My dear young friends, I want to invite you to "dare to love". Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters.’ 
Oh, and by the way, it seems that there were actually three saints named Valentine. All died willingly for their faith in God. Now that is love.
Fr. John Bullock, LC
 Cf. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, p. 282.
 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Kindle Edition, n. 1601.