Happy Valentine’s day. From the appearance of many stores, though, it seems like we have been celebrating it since a few days after Christmas. Sadly, that is only symbolic of what many might understand of Valentine’s day - a secular and commercialized ‘filler’ for the period in between Christmas and Easter, between the toys and the candies. But, as a Catholic, I recall that it is really more, though it is true that we do not commemorate it as such any longer. Instead we celebrate the memorial of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, the two brothers credited with sharing the faith with the Slavic nations. St. Cyril is the designer of the Cyrillic alphabet which bears his name as a result. Part of the reason that the Church no longer commemorates St. Valentine is that there is a confusion about which saint of at least two is really commemorated, and that so many legends have come to surround these Ss. Valentines. According to most, the one honored was a Catholic priest of Rome who was imprisoned for the radical action of teaching about the natural and sacramental nature of marriage. The emperor claimed for himself the right to the first ‘encounter' with the soon-to-be married women of Rome, and St. Valentine clandestinely witnessed the marriage of many young couples to protect their virginity and chastity. It is said that even in prison, he continued his bold defense of marriage as the intimate union of man and woman, in a free, full, faithful and monogamous relationship. He saw that marriage in the Christian sense was a direct result of the teaching of Christ, but that the practice of the emperor having his way with would-be wives was against even the natural order. For this bold proclamation, he gave his life. The love of his life was Christ, a chaste, but nonetheless intense, love. The love he defended by his death was a marital love between man and woman. How far detached, therefore, we have become in our secularized celebrating of this man of faith. It is separate from the love of Christ, often marked with a thinly veiled lust, and is no longer referencing lifelong, marital relationships. Maybe this is because we have lost an understanding of marriage and love itself. Perhaps, it is as many recently are saying, that the real vocational crisis in the Church is the vocation of marriage. These next days between now and St. Valentine’s day, instead of focussing solely on all the hearts and cards, chocolates and roses, we can examine our loves. Would St. Valentine recognize it as from Christ? Would it please the Lord? Perhaps, too, instead of all the stuff, we focus and truly prepare to give our hearts to the beloved, whether it be to a significant other, especially one’s spouse, or the Beloved of every heart, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Friday, December 23, 2016
Merry Christmas! I hope that this season is one of peace and joy for all. Christmas is a season - it only begins on December 25. The Twelve days of Christmas, of carol fame, begins - not ends - on Christmas day. Indeed, the twelve days ends on the feast of the Epiphany, we we remember three events in which Christ is revealed to the world (the arrival of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ, and the first miracle at the wedding at Cana). Different cultures have different endings of the season culturally, for example marks is through February 2 (the feast of the Presentation), while others end with the official end of the liturgical season on the Baptism of the Lord, this year January 9. There is something profoundly human (and humane) about this. We prepare for Christmas with another season, Advent, to prepare our hearts to celebrate His birth, but also for His glorious return in the Second Coming. In the Church, we need that time to prepare. While not as intense as Lent, it is a season in the Catholic and Orthodox churches marked by prayer and penance (and even fasting by some). But after such preparations, we also need to to celebrate, and do so for more than one day! Why all this preparation and celebration? Because Christmas is so much more than celebrate a birthday, thought true it is that in part. The Church recalls that Christ was born, but also that He will come again, and when better than when we celebrate His first birth. For a deeper understanding of the meaning of His birth, we need look no further that to some of the carols that we sing during this season. Hark the Herald Angels Sing tells us "God and sinners reconciled”. Silent Night proclaims “the dawn of redeeming grace.” The First Noel reminds us that with His [Christ’s] blood mankind hath bought.” Indeed every Christmas hymn (the religious ones, anyway) tell us the story of the Birth and the reason behind it. Clearly, this is no mere child, but is a Divine Being with a heavenly purpose. Being the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (the persons of the the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit in the one Being of God), Jesus took flesh (the Incarnation) in the womb of Mary, and He was born in a humble stable. While some might quibble about the date, the fact is that He was born, and we celebrate that fact. God became Man, became one of us, so that He would lead us to Himself. He was born that He might offer His life to the Father to redeem us. This is the core of the Christian faith, which begins with Christ’s Incarnation and Birth. He came to die on the Cross to bring the Father’s grace and loving presence to us. With that noble purpose, we need much more than one day. So sing long and well those glorious songs of Christmas and share the joy of our salvation with all.