Amidst the secular spectacle that has become Valentine’s Day, we can forget that it’s actually a Catholic feast day. Here’s a brief look at the history I think you’ll find interesting.
Not surprisingly, the secular version of this holiday is rife with suggestions for how lovers can “spice things up,” which typically means fanning the flames of lustful passion. Here we could make two mistakes as Christians: we could indiscriminately buy into the vision being promoted; or we could condemn any celebration of our passions altogether. Neither one is the truly Christian approach.
It’s so important to realize that the devil doesn’t have his own clay. All he can do is take God’s clay (which is always very good) and twist it, distort it. Erotic passion has, indeed, been twisted and distorted in our fallen world and in our fallen hearts. When left to its own disordered inclination, erotic passion becomes merely a base desire for selfish gratification. Indulging that may bring momentary “release” but it will also leave a wake of destruction in our own lives and the lives of others.
But we mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!
Christ doesn’t want to snuff out our erotic passions and desires. He wants to redeem them! As Saint John Paul II put it, Christ wants us to experience the “fullness of ‘eros,’ which implies the upward impulse of the human spirit toward what is true, good, and beautiful, so that what is ‘erotic’ also becomes true, good, and beautiful” (TOB 48:1). How can we fan the flames of a holy erotic passion? Here are three tips:
- Start by thanking God for the gift of making us male and female and for planting in our hearts and bodies a passion and desire for love and union. Gratitude is a way of directing our hearts and our desires to God and including him in the picture (excluding him from the picture is precisely the reason our passions have become disordered).
- Be raw and real with God. Take the pious masks off and tell him what you’re really feeling. Tell him what your real temptations are. Tell him what your actual desires are. But turn that agony into a prayer, into an offering, into an act of surrender and trust (see prayer below).
- Rather than repressing your passions by pushing them into the subconscious, trying to ignore them, or otherwise seeking to annihilate them, surrender them to Christ and allow him to purify them. This will involve a “death” to our disordered passions, but in the process, “the Spirit of the Lord gives new form to our desires,” as the Catechism puts it (CCC 2764). In other words, as we continue to “take up our cross and follow,” dying to our disordered passions leads to a resurrection of eros as the desire to love as God loves.
To enter into Christ’s death and resurrection in in this way is nothing other than to tap into the real POWER of our baptisms. We all must face our disordered desires. But here’s the good news: behind every disordered desire is a genuine God-given desire that’s been twisted up, and he put those desires in our hearts not to frustrate us, but to lead us into his eternal Fire of Love.
I’ll close with a prayer that summarizes the above. I pray some version of this whenever necessary. I encourage you to do the same.
Lord, I praise you and thank you for the gift of the human body, its beauty, its mystery, and the wonder, attraction, and desire it stirs in me. Lord, I recognize that my desires have gotten twisted up in my heart. I give these twisted desires to you. I give you permission, Lord, to lead me on the journey of a full purification. Help me always to be able to distinguish the great riches and beauties of sexuality as you created it to be from the distortions of lust. Set love in order in my heart and help me to honor the true dignity and mystery of every human person. Amen.
Saint Valentine, pray for us!