BY BYRON AND FRANCINE PIROLA
Almost as soon as Christmas is over, the stores start filling with heart-shaped chocolates and red rose imagery. Stationers, florists, lingerie and gift shops; St Valentine’s Day is over a month away, but already it’s dominating the marketing space.
Popular with teenagers and love-struck young adults, many have questioned why the Australian Bishops would single out this over-indulged, secular event to focus on marriage. Begun in 2010, the St Valentine’s Day initiative seeks to reclaim this religious feast from the secular, and provide a positive message in an increasingly marriage-negative culture.
The Church is often criticised as being irrelevant to ordinary Catholics. Given that there is substantial community interest St Valentine’s day, it is an opportune occasion to meet ordinary people in the market place and invite them to a deeper awareness of the purpose and meaning of romance and life-long committed love in the divine plan. It’s a message that is even more urgent as marriage comes under political attack causing confusion and doubt about its role in the community.
As popular as romance is, for many singles the notion of life-long love is merely sentimental longing. They no longer have faith in marriage as a permanent love relationship and have come to view it as either unnecessary or unrealistic.
In our work with engaged couples, it is not uncommon to hear that we are the only couple they personally know still married after 24 years. They simply have no one in their network who is living proof that life-long marriage is both possible and desirable.
Among those of us who are married, often romance is overlooked in the busyness of raising a family. For example, we hear comments from married couples like “we don’t have time for that sort of thing” or “we’re too old for that silliness”.
It’s a view that sees romance as either unjustifiably indulgent or embarrassingly childish. And yet, relationship experts have noted repeatedly, that romance is an essential ingredient in sustaining a joyful marriage.
Romance brings interest and novelty to a relationship. It invites playfulness and tender vulnerability between the spouses. It takes away the notion that success in marriage is ‘hard work’. Spouses who enjoy each other’s company not only experience deeper marital satisfaction, they also bring protective benefits to their relationship; sterile or dull marriages leave spouses vulnerable to seeking nourishment and excitement outside the marriage.
With so many marriages breaking down or ending in extra-marital affairs, the wise couple will prioritise romance in their lives.
For Catholic married couples, however, there is an added imperative. We are called to be sacramental witnesses. Scripture repeatedly uses marital imagery to describe God’s relationship with his people – and it’s not a picture of a world-weary, indifferent lover.
Married love is intended to reveal to the world that God’s love is passionate as well as benevolent. Without romance, a marriage may be sustained for life, but it will not witness to the fullness of God’s urgent love for his bride.
So here are three tips for making the most of St Valentine’s Day.Many people wouldn’t even know that Valentine was a saint. Learn his story and share it. Share it at work, at home, in your parish community. Put the saint back in the feast. Call it ‘SAINT Valentine’s Day’, rather simply ‘Valentine’s Day’; It reminds you and others who the feast is about. For married couples: prioritise romance in your marriage. Leave love notes for each other, plan romantic interludes, light some candles, play your favourite songs, visit favourite dating spots… it doesn’t really matter what you do, just start playing together and enjoying each other.
Francine & Byron Pirola are founding directors of Celebrate Love and Embrace marriage courses, and authors of SmartLoving and the CathFamily series. Click here for the St Valentine’s Day 2012 Resource Kit.
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.