by Father Mark Goldasich
“We should never leave this world not having the people that we love know that we love them.”
Richard Leonard was 16 when he first read these words of Jesuit Father John Powell. They inspired him to take them on as a personal challenge, as he came from a family that was “not particularly demonstrative. We do not make regular declarations of our love accompanied by long hugs.”
At the time Richard’s sister was working with Mother Teresa and his brother was living in another city. He wrote letters to both of them, telling them that he loved them. Neither wrote back.
Richard decided to try next with his mom. One Saturday night, he approached his mother — “with my heart pumping and my tummy churning” — while she was watching the news on TV after dinner.
Richard announced that he had something very important to tell her. Without taking her eyes from the screen, she replied distractedly, “What’s that?”
Undaunted, he pressed on, saying, “Mum, I’ve never told you this before and I need to say it tonight.” Apparently, his urgent tone got her attention. She turned off the TV and faced him, with a worried expression on her face.
Richard blurted, “Mum, I just want to tell you that I love you.”
With great relief, his mother said, “I hope so!” And then promptly snapped the TV back on.
After this incident, Richard concluded: “There were no hugs and kisses, no violins playing or statements about how long Mum had been waiting to hear one of us talk of our love for her. As I walked back to my room, I thought I would never take John Powell’s advice again!”
By the way, Richard later found out that both his brother and sister wrote to his mom after they received their “love letters” from him. Both were worried about what was wrong with him. Mom and siblings concluded it was just a phase he was going through. (Adapted from “Preaching to the Converted,” by Richard Leonard.)
Richard Leonard went on to become a Jesuit priest of the Australian Province and is now director of the Australian Catholic Film Office, a consultant to the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Media Committee, and a film critic, author and lecturer. Of his family’s assessment of his youthful expressions of love to them, he said, “I hope it’s a phase I never get over!”
If Father Richard’s experience above was an isolated instance, I would sympathize with critics about a certain day — February 14 — now just a week away. You know the complaint: Valentine’s Day is just an artificial “holiday” (or conspiracy, depending on who you talk to) cooked up by card companies, candy producers, the postal service, florists and restaurant owners — not only to line their own pockets, but to add yet more stress to men’s lives.
While I can’t vouch for the purity of the merchants’ motives regarding Valentine’s Day, what I do believe is that our world and our lives can never have too many expressions of genuine love and care. If we need an “artificial day” to remind us of that, then so be it. And can it be that all this groaning is really just masking a guilty feeling that, if we didn’t have Feb. 14, our love would rarely, if ever, be expressed?
Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m all for Valentine’s Day and the potential good it can do — not only on the day itself, but deep into the rest of the year. Nothing can melt the cold of mid-winter faster or more effectively than reassurances — via words, cards, gestures or gifts — that we are important, treasured, loved.
Father John Powell was right: Telling the people we love that we love them should never get old or burdensome. Like Father Richard, I hope this is a phase that I, or any of us, never get over.