Love is a Verb: An Ignatian Reflection for Valentine’s Day

By Kathy Coffey-Guenther, PhD, senior mission and Ignatian leadership specialist

Joan of Arc Chapel

While Valentine’s Day holds a historical tradition in the Roman Catholic Church that is based on the celebration of the martyrdom of two people in the third century, today we tend to think of it as a day to celebrate romantic love with roses and chocolates, cards and dinners out.

And while all that consumer-driven celebrating may be nice and enjoyable, love is actually a verb.

Loving well is a series of behaviors and actions that are consistently, intentionally and generously grounded in the well being of the other. These behaviors and actions can be observed and measured, received and appreciated.

As St. Ignatius said, “Love ought to show itself in deeds more than words.”

St. Ignatius’ sense of “love as a verb” helps us to orient ourselves deeper to the needs and longings of others. While this concept of loving well can be much more challenging in day-to-day living than perhaps “thinking” about or “intending” to love well may be, I have come to observe and believe that we are wired in our bodies, our hearts and our minds for just such considered action.

I remember being fascinated as a new mom by my baby’s ability to know and express (often loudly) what she needed and wanted. If we didn’t respond quickly enough, she would call attention to her needs and wants even more dramatically (often even more loudly).

It struck me that this tiny soul expected that she was loved enough and that she mattered enough that she would be cared for. She expected that she would receive what she needed and wanted and that she was deserving of love, just by her very existence.

And she was right. As you all may recall from those tired days of parenting, the behavior and actions we demonstrated for our daughter were not complex; they included lifting her up, holding her tight, rocking her to sleep, soothing and singing to her, feeding her, giving her a bath, changing diapers and clothes, and protecting her from harm.

Each day allowed for hours-worth of possible ways to love and serve this new creation through deeds (necessary actions and behaviors consistently performed) to help her thrive physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We gave, without a second thought, and she received as she needed. The deeds of this loving were natural and expected; they were a cycle of healthy serving, giving and receiving on which loving foundations are built.

The more I considered my daughter’s innate sense of place in the world, the more I considered how each of us were once babies. As babies, we all came into the world wired to be loved, to be cared for, to receive, to know what we needed and wanted, and to expect that those needs and wants would matter to those who loved us.

This deep and innate wisdom of knowing ourselves as loved beings is promised to us by God. This wisdom is gifted to us by the same God who has counted every hair on our heads and knit each of us in the womb, specially and uniquely.

As we ponder this season of Valentine’s celebrations, let us gift ourselves and one another by re-remembering from whom we come: the loving imagination and creation of our God who has loved us into being. Let us remember all those who helped us to thrive in this world by listening, attending and acting in love and service to our needs and longings. Let us think about those dear ones in our lives today who need us to show up to love them in both actions and speech over and over again. Let us give gratitude for loving as a verb and for the power that loving has in drawing us closer in the spirit of giving and receiving continuously in these busy, messy, wonderous lives of ours.

The poet Mary Oliver shares a favorite line of mine in her poem The Messenger. She says, “My work is in loving the world.”

How are you called to love the world in your actions today?

May God’s love bless and sustain you these days.

And may you be well loved!