Advancing God’s Love

This is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Flowers, candy, cards, gifts, candlelight dinners, and marriage proposals are all associated with a holiday that has a history in both pagan and Christian traditions. The common thread in all of the debated origins of the feast is that the day is a celebration of “love.”

In a June 25, 2016 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Neel Burton writes about the seven types of love. Eros, best described as romantic love, is what we probably identify with Valentine’s Day. But then there is Philia, friendship, a person of goodwill. Storge is the familial love, like the love between parents and children. More broadly, Agape is love of humankind and all of creation in an altruistic sense. Ludus is described as uncommitted love, and focuses on enjoying other persons without demanding much from the relationships. Pragma is love of reason and the practical, enjoying another’s compatibility in living and working together. Finally, Philautia is love of self, which can have both positive (self-esteem) and negative (hubris) effects.

Dr. Burton explains that there is “porosity” between these seven kinds of love, and they may all coexist in various measures in us. A good friend (philia) may be one who is very easy to be with (ludus), because he or she is “self-sufficient.” And certainly married couples may first experience eros, which deepens with philia, storge, and pragma. Actually, elements of all of the types of love have room to coexist within us. And when we get it “right,” I believe the words of Saint John describe our reality, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (John 4:16-17)

A place like Archmere is built on a history of relationships. Over the years, many of those have grown and deepened, while some have been broken or rearranged. Clearly, the many aspects of love have been experienced and felt from all of the students and families whose lives have become intertwined because of Archmere. It is a place where God can be found, because of the love that is expressed in words and actions each day by members of the school community for each other.

So in considering Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate in the winter season that may bring post-Christmas and pre-Spring blues, let’s take the opportunity as we exchange cards, candy, hugs, and well wishes to be more conscious of all of our relationships every day, finding ways to advance God’s love in the world. It sounds so abstract, but it can be very real if we consider the many aspects of love as it manifests itself among us.

Strengthened By Our Roots

imagesIt’s now a few weeks after Christmas, and many households have taken down their Christmas decorations, including their Christmas trees. Ours is still standing in our family room, filled with ornaments from three generations of family. The eclectic ornament collection also includes those that my wife and I bought to commemorate family trips and travel, and our children’s hobbies and life events. We have so much history in the ornaments we have inherited, collected, or been given over the years, that we have had to resort to a second smaller tree in another room in the house just to accommodate all of the hand-made, counted-cross stitch ornaments my sister-in-law created every year for the last 25 years for each of my children. In thinking about our Christmas tree, each family’s tree, I am sure, tells a story about that family and potentially, its history. The tree for us has become a nostalgic reminder of our family journey over the last almost 30 years we have been married, and the stories of our parents, grandparents, and relatives that are woven into the tree, as well.

Unfortunately during the holiday season, we attended three funerals of family members. In one of the funeral Mass programs was a quote that said,

A limb has fallen from the family tree,
that says grieve not for me.
Remember the best times, the laughter, the song,
The good life I lived while I was strong.

The image of the family tree in that context reminded me of the words of Saint John in his Gospel, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (5:15) The branches of the tree are as strong as the roots that provide nourishment and support; and when a part of the tree separates from the roots, it cannot survive. “But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:21)

Coming home from each of the funerals only to look at the Christmas tree standing in the family room highlighted for me the importance of traditions and the family narrative. With all of the events and images of the holiday season in my mind, I begin the New Year with a renewed resolution to be grateful for the strong roots that have grown through our family experiences and that have been balanced with happy and sad occasions, successes and disappointments, and achievements and failures. My family’s evolution is much like what I have experienced personally within the Archmere community – a sense of tradition, rootedness, and support that encourages one to grow and explore with confidence and acceptance.

Each day, our students at Archmere are creating their own historical narrative, and we are at a point of an ending and a beginning, with first semester final examinations and the start of a second semester. The semester break signals, in some ways, a fresh start for students, a time for retiring one class schedule for a new one, or a one-semester course or two for new electives. The first semester is now history – the students’ histories – documented by transcripts, grades, and the work they have completed, as well as remembered by the friendships and experiences they have had. I hope that as the New Year unfolds, each student makes the most of his or her time at Archmere, experiencing the successes, the failures, and the learning that occurs each day, with the support of family, friends, and teachers.