Wednesday, February 19, 2014

love, martyrs, and Valentines

I've been absent from the blog for too long!!

This past Sunday, my Confirmation students and I discussed the mix of history and legend surrounding St. Valentine - for example, that there appear to have been several martyrs named Valentine in the history of the early Church - and that one of those Valentines was a Roman priest who may have been arrested for marrying Christian couples, and/or assisting the many Christians under persecution by the emperor of the time, Claudius II. The story goes that Valentine was beaten with clubs and stoned - and when neither of these effected his demise, he was beheaded.

We also discussed the fact that the Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius on February 14 - not the feast of St. Valentine. Although St. Valentine is listed in the Catholic martyrology, his feast day was dropped from the Roman Catholic calendar in 1969 - in part, as I understand it, due to the ambiguity surrounding how many Sts. Valentine there may have actually been, and the histories of their respective lives. (It should be noted that the skull of one of these Valentines was found in a Roman catacomb during an excavation in the 1800s. It is currently on display in the Basilica Santa Maria, in Rome. Pretty cool.)

Historical ambiguities aside, I think the most important thing to remember about St. Valentine is his martyrdom.

It’s important because martyrdom is not something the world in general gives much thought to anymore - and in an increasingly post-Christian society, it seems that many people don't really understand what a martyr is. 

Like, a martyr - as in, one of those dudes who died for his faith in Christ?

Yeah, St. Valentine was one of those.

Think about that for a minute.

Doesn’t it kind of give a different meaning to asking someone to be your Valentine? If you think about it in this context, asking someone to be your Valentine is tantamount to asking them if they are willing to die for you. Takes things a little beyond the level of candy hearts and chocolates, doesn't it?

Obviously, we don’t usually take such a serious approach to Valentine’s Day - and I’m not necessarily suggesting we should. Candy hearts and chocolates and all the fun things we associate with Valentine’s Day aren’t necessarily bad. 

However, I am suggesting that we should think about love, and the nature of love, much more seriously than our society-at-large does.

Love, like faith, is not an emotion. Love, like faith, is an act of the will. Sure, the emotions we experience when we are around the people we love can make that act of the will easier - just like catching a spiritual high at Mass or from a great praise and worship session can make the act of will that we call “faith” easier - but as anyone who has been married for more than even just a few months can tell you - love is a choice you make. In and out of season. Regardless of how you feel. 

It’s great when love feels good, but let’s face it: sometimes, love hurts. (Someone cue up the 70s tunes in the back?)

Love demands sacrifice. Love is willing to sacrifice for the good of the beloved, even when this means certain, unavoidable pain. It means that we are willing to die, whether in a figurative or literal sense, for our beloved. 

If you need proof, look at a crucifix.

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