As we come close to Valentine’s Day, lots of signs of love are all around us. Shopping malls conspicuously display hearts of all sizes and designs in their mad scramble to attract consumers. Roses and chocolates are particularly hot commodities. The post office and the internet are flooded with love letters and memes of love and devotion for one’s beloved.
Here at the shrine, lovers and couples have made the shrine a favorite meeting place. It is so lovely to see lovers and couples not just meeting but praying together. Our Mother of Perpetual has perhaps witnessed the expressions of love and devotion between thousands of lovers in the hallowed sanctuary of the shrine. The shrine may have easily fit the setting of an old popular sentimental Tagalog kundiman (love song), Sa Lumang Simbahan,
Sa lumang simbahan (In the old church)
Aking napagmasdan (I witnessed)
Dalaga’t binata (Young men and women)
Ay nagsusumpaan (Promising to each other)
sila’y nakaluhod (They knelt)
Sa harap ng altar (In front of the altar)
Many relationships began and developed at the shrine. Like the story of Jess and Gemma Granadosin. Gemma has, for a long time, prayed to meet the man who will love her forever. Gemma met Jessie in Baclaran. It was love at first sight for Jess. They fell in love. The shrine became their constant meeting place. Now both of them are happily married. Not only that their love life grew but also their spiritual life. When Gemma became an usher of the shrine, Jess joined her too. Both of them served Our Mother of Perpetual Help as ushers of the shrine.
However, the shrine and its environs have also been covertly taken advantage by unscrupulous individuals for activities that defile the very meaning of love. Some notorious individuals have taken advantage of the large gathering of devotees in the compound of the shrine to do their flesh trade. Outside the shrine, there are abortifacients being sold openly on the streets.
Time and again, we have strongly condemned these abuses in the name of love. Indeed, love has become one of the most abused words. So often, we can easily say I love you to the other but fail miserably in proving that love in action. Learning the art of loving entails constant commitment; indeed, it is a lifetime mission.
We cannot, however, truly learn to love unless we go back to the very author of love—God. It is God who loved us first. God loved us because God is love. Before God loved us, God has lived that love first in Godself–three divine persons yet one God. We see in the one God, three persons that God’s love is completely selfless and focused on the other. It is because of this love that God sent his son to share God’s love to us and give us abundant life.
Valentine’s day is not just a day for lovers. It is a day for all of us who are called to participate and partake of God’s love. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, may we truly learn and live the love that God has shown us. May we learn from Mary, our Mother of Perpetual Help, who is our model in loving God and others.