February 14 is the day every continent celebrates LOVE. Catholics should be pleased since the day is named after three of our saints and LOVE is what our God is.
Not so fast. Consider the following historical facts and then decide whether you’re disappointed that the Vatican gave the February 14th slot to another couple of saints in 1969. (The Valentines are still saints, just not in the Official Mass Calendar.)
The legends of the Saints Valentine (each was beheaded in the 3rd century) are inspiring, especially Valentine of Rome who, while imprisoned for helping persecuted Christians, healed the jailer’s blind daughter and threw notes of Christian love signed “Love, Your Valentine” from his cell to street children. But they contradict and overlap, e.g., Valentine of Terni healed both blindness and epilepsy. All three were on our church’s earliest list of martyrs, though, deciding to go to death for their faith.
As you know, the Catholic Church is masterful in “baptizing” pagan feasts, like the winter solstice that became the date of Christmas. Some Vatican sources deny the choice of Feb. 14 as being connected to a Feb.14/15 Roman feast of the goddess Juno as a patron of fertility in nature and humans, but both celebrations seem to involve Cupid’s activity. In Latin Cupid = desire; the same god in Greek is Eros. The pagan feast included boys and girls writing notes to each other; “valentine” messages became part of St Valentine’s Day tradition very early according to some scholars.
Valentine’s Day (without the St. part) has become a rampant monetizing of love, defined as sexual desire or appreciation or guilt. Our motive is to make our “valentine” like us more or go out with us or forgive us. None of those are motivated by true love. For any human who really thinks about it, love is not just a feeling. Or just being turned on. Or even brotherly affection. Sure we call all those love, but we know it’s not true love. Those are all things that happen to us. Those “loves” are good experiences sent by God to us. True Christian love is what we can do, what we can make happen to other people.
Here’s the Catholic definition: True love is a conscious decision TO ACT FOR THE GOOD OF THE LOVED ONE. Not for one’s own good like the other kinds of love. And it’s not words but actions.
So the best reason for accepting that now Feb.14th has almost nothing to do with St Valentine is it doesn’t deal with true love. The love that drove the three St Valentines was true Christian love; they decided to care for the poor and the sick of their region, preach the gospel of love, and die for their faith. And St. Cyril and St. Methodius, 9th century brothers who brought Christianity to the Slavic People, are now praised in the Feb. 14th Mass as holy men who became friends of God, glorious heralds of divine truth.
Friends of God. That’s what our bumper sticker says we are becoming. May the true love of God and St Valentine be with you throughout this year’s uphill battles.