Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Servant and the Master

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and the smell of gifts is in the air (I would say the smell of romance is in the air but let’s just cut to the chase). Over a billion Valentine’s Day cards will be sent this year, according to the Greeting Card Association, which means if you have a honey in your life you’d better get moving.

It’s a sweet tradition, if a bit coerced and commercialized. But its origin is quite serious. Though there are many facets of the story, and undoubtedly a certain legendary hue has developed, the historical record is that St. Valentine was a priest in Rome during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius the Cruel. C-Squared waged so many brutal military campaigns that he began to run short of soldiers, who were not joining his military leagues at the rate he needed. So he cancelled marriage and engagements, figuring that men would be more willing to go off to war if they were not leaving wives or fiancés. St. Valentine, who undoubtedly viewed the institution of marriage as part of God’s redemptive work in the world, continued to marry couples in secret. Eventually he was apprehended and martyred on the 14th of February around the year 270. In the words of Dr. Jennifer Morse (“Love is Worth It”, tothesource newsletter, February 9), “obviously St. Valentine believed that marriage was worth any cost, even when the marriage was not his own.”
I don’t want to be a scold, (he says, assuming a scolding tone) but it does seem ironic that such a weighty beginning that celebrated the romance of love has evolved into an occasion which celebrates the love of romance. I’ll let Dr. Morse explain:

“I give many talks around the country about love and marriage. When I tell the audience that love is worth the effort, I explain that romance is not the same as love. Romance is about feelings. When our husbands bring us flowers, they hope it will make us feel special. When we fix our husband’s favorite dinner, and serve it by candlelight, we are trying to make him feel that he matters. And when we ask for more romance in our marriage, we usually mean that we want the other person to take the time, trouble and effort to make us feel special. Now all that is very well, but it is not quite the same as love. We think we are “in love” if we like the way we feel when we are with another person. But every adult knows that those good feelings are not enough to sustain a marriage for a lifetime. We don’t always like the way we feel at work: that doesn’t necessarily mean we should quit our jobs. We don’t always like the way we feel about our children: that doesn’t mean we should disown them. It doesn’t make sense to gauge the strength of our marriages (or relationships – Matt) on the basis of how we feel minute to minute. But if we see that to love is to want the good of the other person, then we realize that feelings are only a small part of the big picture of love.”

Here’s how I see it: Love is the steak, romance is the sizzle. Steak without sizzle is boring. Sizzle without steak is not life sustaining (and kind of slippery). So by all means buy the flowers, give the chocolate, send the card, give the chocolate, sing the serenade, give the chocolate (can you tell where the focus is in my house?). But the spiritual underpinning of the holiday points us to the deeper love for which romance is meant to be a servant.


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