by Raymond K. Petrucci

Winter's annual course brings us to a day for honoring love. How Saint Valentine's Day and love itself will be celebrated in this technological age is worth pondering. Faith in God and the dignity of human life rests on its well-being. A heartfelt "I love you" must remain a cause for irrepressible delight. These past few decades have been trying ones for the human experience of loving: Committed versus broken marriages have played to no better than a tie; trusting and being worthy of trust have proved to be a difficult task; sexuality has been profaned; and the essentials of nurturing love too often have been misunderstood. The quest of those seeking to love and to be loved will be to stand upright in the winds that will blow in this developing age.

How does one proceed on this journey? I am reminded of a lyric from a song in the Sound of Music: "Let's start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start." Understanding who we are as self and in relation to God and to the vast human family is the soul of our pilgrimage toward love. In recent times the emphasis on self-esteem has reached a narcissistic point. This causes concern that our culture has lost an awareness of the whole or the common good. In a fairly recent issue of the Jesuit magazine, America, sociologist Robert Bellah stated: "Just when we are in many ways moving to an ever greater validation of the sacredness of the individual person, our capacity to imagine a social fabric that would hold individuals together is vanishing. This is in part because of the fact that our ethical individualism...is linked to an economic individualism that, ironically, knows nothing of the sacredness of the individual. Its only standard is money, and the only thing more sacred than money is more money. What economic individualism destroys and what our kind of religious individualism cannot restore is solidarity, a sense of being members of the same body." While being pleased with our current economic strength, let us be wary that we do not replace the human heart with a "golden calf". I believe that by the end of life's trek God hopes that we have learned the worth of love beyond all things.

Desiring love in its most pristine and authentic sense, our attention turns to the love of God and the appreciation of God's love for us. This relationship gives us the foundation upon which all of our loving actions find their impetus and purpose. One may ask if love is possible without the assurance of God's love for us. Can mankind reach love's heights without faith in God? I say - No! Love and all of the virtues we cherish would exist and be operative in human culture to some degree because divine influence would continue even in the face of unbelief. However, love would rest on the flimsiest of bases and its presence would be arbitrary. Society would be that of the police state and attaining pleasure would be the Great Commandment of human life. I affirm that the presence of God is requisite for the presence of true love.

The power of God's presence in human existence and its affect may be illustrated in the following example. The author Thomas Cahill tells a story about Malcolm Muggeridge, who later would convert to Catholicism, and his encounter with Christ in action: "The supremely secular British curmudgeon, who cast a cold eye over so many contemporary efforts and enterprises' found himself moved to his core when he visited a leprosarium in India run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. Suddenly this man who had ultimate faith in humanism came to the startling conclusion that 'to offer humane treatment to humanity's outcasts, to overcome their lifetime experience of petty human cruelties, requires more than mere humanity.'" No matter how battered or misused, love ultimately triumphs because God ultimately triumphs.

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