From the time we are children, parents counsel us to have compassion on others, to ‘walk a mile in their shoes,’ and I learned that lesson yet again in my most unpopular homily. Only this time, it was an attempt to walk in the sandals of the Savior.
It was Valentine’s Day, a Sunday when no priest or other lay leader for worship could be found, and I agreed to lead our church’s Zoom worship.
For the homily, after wishing everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day, and mentioning only very briefly (for the sake of the well-educated congregation) the original confusions about whose St. Valentine’s feast it was, I settled on the traditional saintly figure we honor on a day dedicated to lovers and their joy.
Then I talked about the fact that our Christian scriptures first came to us in Greek, the language of the educated, even though Latin-speaking Rome ruled the world. And I spoke of the extraordinary qualities of that ancient language, which not only named emotions, but had names for the nuances of emotion, with insights we benefit from even today.
A striking example is found in the varieties of ways that ancient Greek described love, and cited some of the dimensions of love that were named:
Philia, from which we get philanthropy, the love of humans that lead to our helping those in need;
Agape, the love we identify with God’s love for us, a love that encompasses humanity;
And Eros, the sexual love that marks out the romantic, exciting emotion that gives rise to endless poetry, songs, happiness, suffering, that has bonded lovers probably from the beginning of time.
Valentine’s Day is a special celebration of lovePoet and writer Terence Alfred Aditon is a frequent contributor to the Magazine., yes, and especially of Eros, the love that expresses itself in flowers, jewelry, special lingerie purchased by hopeful men for the women in their lives, giving Victoria’s Secret a high selling average for the month.
When I mentioned that last comment, it was received with many smiles, and shy or brash looks between those watching together, who had such a love relationship.
But that is where the happiness over my homily came to an end, because I said that as Christians, perhaps we should add a ritual to Valentine’s Day. Perhaps we should celebrate Agape as much as Eros, and follow the words of Our Lord, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to put aside anger and vengefulness in favor of the call Jesus made to us, who follow Him.
I suggested that each Valentine’s Day, those celebrating their love, should spend perhaps twenty minutes to think about and name those whom we do not love, and who in fact we may despise, abhor, resent, and whom we outright hate. And then, having said those names, to offer a prayer of love for them, to ask God to forgive all of us who fail in love, in so many ways – to forgive those who hate us, and to forgive us for our hatreds.
My Dear Lord, I hope you smiled at the reactions I received, the dismay and disappointment that I had raised such an issue on Valentine’s Day. Lord, is it beneath you to roll your eyes at the unhappy responses in their faces?
I laugh sheepishly at myself, at the memory of the congregation’s perplexity over my sermon. And I sigh, knowing how perplexed your hearers were at your messages of love, your Gospel a return always to that call to open our hearts to each other.
Generally after I led a service, there were always a few, at least, compliments on my homilies. This time, only one e-mail, about another matter, mentioned as an afterthought that I had given ‘a great talk. ‘
I wonder, if I had quoted a popular love song, and simply enjoined my hearers to continue strongly in their love, whether they would have been so much happier. I regret their dismay, but cannot disavow the teachings that led me to suggesting a role for forgiveness, on a day dedicated to romantic love. I pray it was not pride or priggishness that motivated my words, and pray for forgiveness if that were indeed the case.
And so, what interesting ways do we come to You, Lord, to feel within us the wonderment and perhaps anger of the crowds at what You preached.
My unpopular homily could have been better, could perhaps have told the truths of love and hate far more gently. But done is done, and it was a hint of what it was to be with You in those great teachings that You gave to the world. How much we learn when we try to express Your words!
Poet and writer Terence Alfred Aditon is a frequent contributor to the Magazine.