Happy Groundhog Day

Well, today is Groundhog Day. I personally couldn’t care less what the groundhog himself does — whether he sees his shadow or not. What I do care about is that people go to see the movie “Groundhog Day”, and learn an important lesson about love from it.

That’s right, I’m recommending that people see a Bill Murray movie to learn a lesson. Actually, that movie has a very deep message — whether the screenwriter/director intended it or not. In fact, the movie is great illustration of the true nature of love, and a perfect example of what Pope Benedict was writing about in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Here’s what I mean.

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict’s point of departure is a distinction between two different meanings of the word “love”. Of course, in the English language we only have the one word, “love”, and we use it for all sorts of different things — I love my wife, I love my children, I love the Yankees, I love chocolate, etc. But in Greek, there are a number of different words for love, each of which has a specialized meaning. The Holy Father asks us to look at two of these kinds of love — eros and agape.

Eros is essentially a passion for another, a desire to have them, to own them. In it’s sexual form, eros by itself becomes fixated on the body alone, not on the person, and treats the other as an object for use. Eros is basically all about me. Agape, in contrast, is love that focuses on the other, and seeks ways in which I may be a gift to them. Agape doesn’t treat you as an object, or a mere body, but looks beyond the physical to the fully personal. Agape isn’t all about me, and what I can get — it’s about you, and how I can give myself to you.

Both of these forms of love are good — God created us with the capacity and need for both — but they must be kept in balance. As Pope Benedict says, “The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized”.

Here’s where the movie “Groundhog Day” comes in, and why it’s such a good example of the true nature of love. At the beginning of the movie, Phil Connors is a selfish, vain, fool who only cares about himself. All other people are there for him to use for his pleasure and his status. Phil is eros out of control.

Well, Phil goes to Punxsatawney, PA to do a report on the festivities, and he gets stuck on Groundhog Day. He repeats the day over and over, but only he can remember that it’s a repeat — everyone else is living the day for the first time. At first, Phil thinks this is great, and indulges his eros — eating, drinking, seducing, etc. But after a while, Phil realizes that he’s desperately unhappy, and that his unbalanced eros has left him in a hell of his own selfishness.

There’s a turning point in the movie and a happy ending, which I won’t spoil. But suffice it to say that the road out of hell for Phil is when he starts to realize that he’s missing agape in his life, and he starts to balance it — marry it — to his eros.

And that’s the point. All too often, we go through our lives stuck in our own selfishness, with our eros out of balance. We keep trying to find new ways to be happy, but typically it’s just different brands of eros — using people in all sorts of ways (for sex, or power), anesthetizing ourselves with chemicals or entertainment, chasing material wealth or success, all that.

But the true path to happiness, as Phil and Pope Benedict teach us, is to become a gift of self to others — to make it all about them, and not all about me.

The Second Vatican Council said it best: “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

In other words, don’t get stuck on Groundhog Day.

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