February 14 is the feast of Saint Valentine. Not much is really known about this guy, but he somehow managed to get on the bad side of one Claudius II, Emperor of Rome, who had him beheaded around the year 270. Our own popular conception of Valentine’s Day probably has its roots in one particular story that pits him as a temple priest defying Claudius’s ban on Christian marriage and engagement ceremonies. Valentine urged young lovers to turn away from the nonsensical fertility rituals of pagan Rome and experience the fullness of Holy Matrimony. Whatever the details, Saint Valentine’s Day has since become a staple in the commercial holiday industry as something of an international express-your-affection day. Go to any store right about now and sooner or later you’ll find yourself surrounded by an assortment of flowers, chocolates, hearts, and all manner of trinkets designed to conjure up a little romance.
Moving on. Every year I also hear another name for Valentine’s Day being bandied around: Singles Awareness Day (SAD). Allow me to explain. This little bit of grey humor is an informal holiday created and embraced over time by folks lacking that “special someone” who feel deserving of celebration nonetheless. A typical observance of Singles Awareness Day might include, for instance, buying oneself chocolates (I actually do this fairly often anyway) or spending the day with other single friends. At its best, the basic point that SAD is trying to make is that you can lead a perfectly happy, fulfilling life without being in a romantic relationship. At its worst, SAD becomes a holiday of cynicism and selfishness. You either spend the day fondly looking forward or wallowing in the past. Either way, it seems that Valentine’s Day conjures up some strong feelings and that’s no surprise. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Looking into our hearts, I think we young people can all agree that the nature of our relationships and romance take up a surprising amount of time in both our own thoughts and our dealings with other people, even if this is not always obvious. This is natural and human. God is love. Love made us and we are continually seeking love; we are restless until we come into full communion with God as love. But the world we live in does not often foster the pursuit of true love as the greatest good. In fact, modern secular society is not unlike St. Valentine’s Rome. It’s saturated with a perverted understanding of sex and love that places material pleasure and objectification of others above all else. As a young guy striving to live the good life, I’m acutely aware of this. For me, going out in the world means being routinely bombarded with the temptations of this culture. The influence of the secular world and its watering down of love and sexuality is strong and apparent even among Catholic youth.
So let’s connect the dots here. I think the secular world’s extolling of sexual libertinism has contributed to this budding propensity among youth to think of singlehood – that is, not being involved in a romantic relationship with another person – in the wrong kind of light. Some view it as nothing more than an embarassing transitional period, something to be hurried through: Find someone special or discern a celibate vocation as soon as possible and move on with life! Others view it more like a cave in which they can hide from any responsibility or hardship: Don’t commit to anything or anyone and you can play it safe! Then still there are those who treat it more like a free trial membership: You’ve got to date around and test the waters before you know what you want!
I think all of these fall severely short of the fullness of singlehood. But then the question arises: What is the essence of singlehood? What must the single and searching person do to find fulfilment outside of ending his singlehood?
Here’s a suggestion : singles awareness.
What does that mean? What does it mean to be truly aware of your singlehood? Well, start off by letting go of any anxiety or cynicism in your relationships with others. Realize that you have been given a time in your life in which to grow in intimacy with God and in friendship with His children. Do not immediately look upon others as potential romantic interests, but as sisters and brothers in Christ. Granted, this is easier said than done, but I can say from personal experience that your efforts will be greatly rewarded.
The truth is, I’m young yet, and only very recently did I begin to internalize all of this. I know there is always the temptation to view romance as a means of emotional and spiritual fulfillment, as a way of filling that inner void with which we are all created. But I have to remind myself that even the most perfect spouse will never be able to do this! That void is the longing for union with God, and only God can fill it. I can now say with certainty that I am thankful for being single at the moment. I have the awesome opportunity to develop the foundations for a life of virtue rooted in my relationship with God above all things. This, I think – this relationship with Christ, who, as the Bridegroom of the Church, is the most perfect spouse – is probably the single most important key to a successful relationship with another person. And as singles, that should be our priority: forming ourselves and forming Christian relationships with others so that we may fully enjoy God’s plans for us, be it marriage, priesthood, or religious life.
So this Valentine’s Day week – when so many will be speaking of “love in the air” – if you happen to find yourself reflecting on your singlehood, I encourage you to make Christ that “special someone” in your life. There is no greater love.
And heck! Get yourself some chocolates.Tags » Relationships Romance Love Christian Living Spiritual Reflections
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