St Valentine’s Day: Why love is at the basis of Christian teaching

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Romantic love should be in the air this weekend as we celebrate St Valentine’s Day on 14 February.

While beginning to write about the subject, I paused to comb stories in one of Australia’s leading women’s magazines only to find that several pages were devoted to a story headed: “How divorce can supercharge your life”.

Let me begin by saying that that most marriages that end in divorce leave people heartbroken – and the damage is seldom confined only to the couple involved.

Children suffer, even though they may also have been affected by issues leading to the breakdown of a family relationship; so do the parents of the couple, along with some of their closest friends.

As is often the case, reading into the story that seemed to be looking for positive aspects of relationships breaking down did offer a worthy message of caution – but the headline is what sells the story and usually leaves a more lasting impact.

Some people end up with ongoing depression; for others, it triggers drug and alcohol problems.

“Although there is less stigma to divorce today, nobody goes into a long-term relationship looking for it to end, so there is still this sense of failure, grief and loss” Anne
Hollonds, director of the Institute of Family Studies, told the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Perhaps the only exceptions there could involve some media personalities and business leaders who seem to move rather rapidly from one marriage to another one or even more.

Reading the story reminded me of a recent item in an overseas publication where a writer had questioned why people of her obviously younger generation appeared reluctant to commit to marriage.

She quoted from an American Family Survey which found that while young people continued to view marriage as an important social institution and wanted to marry eventually, high divorce rates and the need for increased financial security were delaying their decisions to seek a long-term partner.

They pointed to problems associated with paying down student debt as a disincentive, and young Australians could use the same argument related to their university loans.

Just as economics has been put before other considerations about having children within a marriage, younger people seem keen to first seek the right job and build a reasonable bank balance ahead of being prepared to commit.

The American study suggested that these issues were behind increased numbers of younger people remaining at home with their parents for periods much longer than those who were part of past generations.

Considering these aspects of commitment made me reconsider writing about what was described in a simple popular song of the 1950s as: “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.”

Maybe they still do – but only after certain other important matters have been addressed.

This weekend’s celebration should remind us that love is a quality that’s at the base of Christian teaching.

“Love one another; just as I have loved you” (John 13:34) is the essence of our faith.

St Valentine, who is believed to have died in about the year 270, is linked closely to qualities of love that are celebrated on his feast day apparently because he was credited with a special and most generous act well removed from the romantic exchanges of flowers and chocolates that are now associated with his feast.

It’s claimed that, quite possibly through the power of prayer, he is credited with restoring the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter to whom he wrote a final message just before he was martyred bearing the words: “From your Valentine.”

That action may not be readily accepted by the medico-scientific community and the fact checkers of today’s society, but his words continue to be attached to large numbers of gifts and messages sent to many different people across the globe at this time.

His offering was from the essence of Christian love: respecting and caring for those around us and simply continuing to be there when needed, despite any difficulties which we may be facing.

Overcoming those difficulties is more important than exchanging physical gifts when committing to permanent relationships and seeking to make marriages work.