Holidays seem to have all blurred together in the past few years, and it is common to see St. Valentine’s Day decorations in the stores on Jan. 2. However, for the first time, while I was shopping in mid-December, I noticed that the Christmas decorations and Valentine’s Day candy and décor were nestled side-by-side in an aisle. It reminded me that, while the world clearly views Christmas and Valentine’s Day as “just another day” to shop, eat and decorate for, we as Christians hold these times of the year as special and sacred.
Like most children, my own children look forward to Valentine’s Day — mostly because they know they will receive candy, chocolate or small gifts. Unlike when I was growing up, which was fraught with the school worry of wondering if I would receive a card or gift, parents today are instructed to send enough cards and candy for every child in the class. Nobody is left out, which I appreciate, but I have observed with my own children that this, too, has eroded the uniqueness of the day and the joy of receiving something that is meant uniquely for them.
We all know that creeping commercialism has eroded the meaning of Valentine’s Day. Yet, at the heart of this day is the witness of St. Valentine, a saint known for his faithfulness and devotion to Jesus. The saint we celebrate on Feb. 14 is known officially by the church as St. Valentine of Rome to differentiate him from other saints who were also called St. Valentine, including St. Valentina, St. Valentine of Raetia and St. Valentine of Viterbo.
We also have more modern St. Valentines who are saints, the most recent being a bishop and martyr — St. Valentin Faustino Berri Ochoa, who traveled to Vietnam to share the Gospel and was beheaded in 1861. Whether ancient or new, each one of these Valentines shares in common the witness of their Catholic faith and their love for Jesus Christ, which is what we should celebrate on this feast day.
This Valentine’s Day, let’s recover a greater sense of the sacredness of the feast day and draw closer to Jesus to discover and rediscover the deeper love that is already there waiting for us. We have good reason to do so: Jesus loves each one of us uniquely. We were made for him and “his love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8), no matter how far we might stray from him. Here are ideas to open up ourselves more deeply to the love that is already waiting for us:
1. Have a heart-to-heart
When we are with someone we love, we can truly share what’s weighing on our heart and mind. Take some time to share your burdens and your joys with Jesus. Talk about what’s really weighing you down, what worries you are carrying, but also what delights you and what brings you peace and joy. Rest in his peace and love for you.
2. Make a date
Date nights are an important time for couples to be together and, during this time of the year, many people make a special effort to spend extra time with the ones they love. How about making a date with Jesus? Make a date to spend a little time alone with him in peace and quiet. Put this special time on your calendar and honor your commitment. Be surprised by the gift of his presence.
3. Share a meal together
The greatest meal we share as Catholics is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass, heaven and earth become closer and we are nourished by the gift of the Eucharist. Take your loved ones to the greatest meal we will ever know. If you have not been to Mass in some time, pick a date and go with the intention to let him love you at Mass.
4. Valentine’s card
Many Valentine’s cards contain all kinds of poetry, from clever to cheesy. Undoubtedly, the word of God contains the most beautiful words of love we could ever know. Not sure what I mean? Read the Song of Songs (also known as the “Song of Solomon”) and let your heart be filled with the words, “I have found him whom my soul loves” (3:4) or “you are altogether beautiful my love, there is no flaw in you” (5:7). Reflect on your own Valentine’s message to Jesus and ask him to share a special message with you in prayer.
Of all the Valentine’s gifts and cards we receive in life, the saints remind us that the best Valentine we can give ourselves is the gift of a relationship with God. This Valentine’s Day, allow God to bless you with a renewed sense of the gift of his unique love for you.
Stanz is director of discipleship and parish life for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Braving the Thin Places: Celtic Wisdom to Create a Space for Grace” (Loyola Press).