St. Thomas Aquinas distinguished between two concepts called “acts of humans” as opposed to “human acts.” At first blush this may sound like semantics, but when we understand his reasoning we quickly discover that the difference between them has a profound bearing on our moral character and even on our attitude toward Valentine’s Day.
What is the difference between acts of humans and humans acts? Acts of humans are behaviors that we perform unconsciously. For example, sleepwalking is an unconscious act of humans who suffer from the affliction called somnambulism. In fact, some behaviors like digestion, blood circulation, and eye-pupil dilation are all acts of humans that we, thankfully, do not have to consciously decide to do.
On the other hand, human acts are behaviors we do make a conscious decision to perform. For example, Christ instructed us to forgive people who offend us. Instead of retaliating when others strike down our ego, true Christians must consciously decide if we are going to turn the other cheek or not. Seeking to be reconciled with our adversaries, therefore, is a human act. We must decide to “bury the hatchet” and we must decide to forget where we buried it. Otherwise, we might be tempted to dig it up and use it to hurt them if they wrong us again.
In February, we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day. The question we might ponder is whether love is one of those unconscious acts of humans, or is love a human act? Do humans unconsciously fall in love, which would render love an act of humans? Or do we decide to love other people, which would turn love into a human act?
On Feb. 14, if we are going to gift that unique love of our life with a superior greeting card or a bouquet of flowers or a heart-shaped box of chocolates, will our love be an unconscious act of our human nature or will our gift represent our human act, our conscious decision to love that most important person? In other words, do we give a Valentine gift out of an unconscious habit or because it is an annual expectation or the culturally preferred thing to do? Or do we consciously decide that our gift is only a single day’s representation of our decision to be faithfully and exclusively loving toward our spouse all 365 days of the year?
Science claims that physical and psychological attraction toward another person is an act of humans, not a human act. Apparently, there is as much unconscious chemistry as there is serendipitous mystery behind our preference for the company of some people over others. However, real love, even if it is initiated by emotion, is ultimately a conscious decision. Again, from St. Thomas, true love is willing the good of the other. And an act of the will is a conscious decision, a human act, not an unconscious act of humans governed by inexplicable, unconscious feelings.
Holy Homework. Attach a note to the greeting card, or the dozen roses, or the dark chocolates that reads, “I consciously choose you every day as my only Valentine. Decided yours, Love…”
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