‘St Valentine’s Day!’ grumped someone I know. ‘It’s just a cynical commercial exercise.’ It was a calendar date, he went on, that he never, ever observes. ‘Every day should be Valentine’s Day,’ added another, who declared he takes his wife flowers on a regular basis and did not need a particular day of the year to join the anxious throng trying to secure the obligatory long stemmed red roses to his wife every – or even any – February 14.
Both views are sound, but they are not mine. I love St Valentine’s Day – which is also a significant anniversary in my own calendar, writes Christine Hogan.
Poor St Valentine. He has had a chequered career through history – two saints who might or might be one and the same (a Roman priest, and a bishop from modern day Terni), and yet another martyr from North Africa… which one is the right one, the one martyred on February 14, 273?
The feast of St Valentine was established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I (note to self: Google him). He wasn’t too clear about the life and deeds of n the newly canonised St V, either, including him among all those ‘... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.’
A tomb which might have belonged to him was found in one of the catacombs, as were the footings of a church which seems to have been named for him, and his relics were spread across Europe – his skull, perhaps, resides in Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome while a reliquary tinged with what might be his blood is lodged in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin
But these bits and pieces of saintly possibility were not enough to keep his name up in church lights. Valentine was relegated from the global liturgical calendar in 1969, although he remains a local hero. Indeed, a church in his name was built for the Rome Olympics, and remains popular to this day. And of course, he is commemorated by the masses like no other saint, Christians and non-Christians alike. People with no religious affiliation at all celebrate his feast day – albeit most of them unwittingly.
The problem for the at least dual-personalitied St Valenitine is that he is the patron saint of lovers – something which blew up in the Middle Ages out of the courtly love tradition. That romantic tradition, of course, is also the reason that he remains so popular today.
In a society where up to half of marriages end in divorce, people (well, most of the sane, anyway) long for the peace, the serenity and the, dare I say, stability of love and marriage. As Mrs Patrick Campbell put it, many of us yearn for ‘The deep, deep peace of the double-bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise-lounge.’
But there are obviously different types of love, split with precision by the Greeks. Eros, romantic love, is just one form. There is also philia, brotherly love, and agape. In theological terms, agape is the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it also refers to the human reciprocal love for God; and the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man.
Love one another… Jesus urged us not only to love God but to love one another. And John was extremely direct about love: as 1 John 4: 8 tells us ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’
So it is obvious that to experience love, you must give love… wholeheartedly and across the board. Love to husband or wife, fiancé to fiancée, girlfriend to boyfriend.
But it is wider than that – as St Valentine’s is commemorated or celebrated today, think about the people you love, and how bereft you would be without their love manifested in their support of you, their generosity of spirit towards you, their concern about you and care for you. That love really is God…
Love comes in many shapes and sizes. But however it arrives, love is the steady foundation upon which we can explore and realise our true humanity, glimpse then immerse ourselves in the divine. So send flowers, call your Nanna, your mother, your Dad… tell your husband/wife how much they mean to you. Tell someone you love them and meantime, listen to this… because the words are true… it is the greatest thing you will ever do… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNpwBpZUrzk.
Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day… and don’t forget to share the love!
Christine Hogan is the Publisher of faith-based communications for Church Resources, and moderates the discussion boards of CathNews.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.