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Feastday Highlights: February 14, Letters and Love

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles ) | Feb 13, 2014

This morning we awoke to a blanket of snow. While I know much of the country has been digging themselves out all winter, this area rarely gets anything more than a few inches at a time, so a foot of snow is a welcome change.

The timing of the snow coincides with the Winter Olympics. Did anyone watch the Sochi Opening Ceremony last Friday? Political agendas aside, our family really enjoyed them. The beginning theme had a young girl dreaming of highlights of Russia seen through the Cyrillic alphabet. The first letter had an image of Saints Cyril and Methodius -- the saints who invented the glagolitic writing for the Slavic language. This writing is the basis for the current Cyrillic alphabet, named after St. Cyril.

Now a week after the Opening Ceremony, the Church celebrates the feast day of these saintly brothers. Their missionary work helped spread the Christian Faith in Slavic countries. The same Russia that hosts the current Olympics invokes Cyril and Methodius as patrons. In the 1962 calendar their feast is July 7, but the current General Roman Calendar celebrates it on February 14, the day of St. Cyril's death, and the same day the Latin Church honors these saintly brothers.

But what happened to St. Valentine? The 1969 Calendar reform reduced the number of early Roman martyrs that have little known about them except their "nomen, locum, diem: name, place, day, to use the words of St. Gregory the Great" (from The Saints in Season edited by Austin Flannery, O.P.) St. Valentine is included in this number.

Removing St. Valentine from the General Roman Calendar won't halt the firmly implanted secular holiday. Valentine's Day has become the day for love, hearts, flowers...and chocolate. It is still unsure where the tradition arose. Some theories say the customs arose from "baptizing" a Roman pagan festival at the time. I have my own theory. I mentioned in my Candlemas post that January 6 in the early Church was the triple feast of Christmas, Epiphany, and the Baptism of Jesus. Forty days later is February 14, so that was the feast of the Presentation for the early centuries. I just wonder if after Christmas was moved to December 25 (thereby moving the Presentation to February 2), there was still an idea that the 14th was a day to celebrate? In a similar fashion the United States where Epiphany is moved to Sunday, I find many Catholics still think and celebrate in some way on January 6, since that is the 12th day of Christmas and traditionally the feast of Epiphany (and celebrated elsewhere on that date). The Presentation is a feast where Mary and Joseph offered Jesus back to God and to the world. In a sense, Valentine's Day is about that self-giving. My theory is a stretch, I know, but I just wonder if Valentine's Day MIGHT have come about because of that change.

I haven't been a huge fan of Valentine's Day until I had children. I felt it was very contrived with commercialism and mere external trappings. Valentine's Day is a secular holiday to celebrate "love", but  Christians really know what true love is. The signs with the Scripture reference "John 3:16" flashed at many so sporting events summarizes this love:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And then we must imitate Christ and give this love to others:

Love one another as I have loved you (John 15:34).
and

Do unto others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).

Scripture is full of guidance on how to truly love. For example, all through the Christmas season we heard the Mass readings from St. John on how to love one another. And the most popular passage read at weddings is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, defining what is true love. It is a beautiful but difficult passage:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

As a parent, my negative view of Valentine's Day has changed. I have seen how this can be a day of innocent fun. But above all it can be a time to learn a beginning lesson of love (charity). The theme of charity/love continues through the Liturgical Year. It is an act of love to put someone else first. My children are thinking of others when they create their little gift or even just signing store-bought cards for Valentine's Day. It's only a small lesson, but like the repeating cycle of the Liturgical year, every lesson builds on each other.

St. Valentine practiced love of Christ to the point of martyrdom. Saints Cyril and Methodius give example of loving others. These brothers were missionaries for the Slavic peoples, dedicating their whole life to spread the Gospel. They also gave the gift of writing and the translation of the Liturgy and the Bible into the Slavic tongue. While their name isn't Valentine, I think this feast completely fits in celebrating Valentine's Day. We can remember their gifts of the written alphabet as we write our Valentines. And as we exchange gifts and cards with our loved ones and friends, we can recall the gifts of love given by Saints Cyril, Methodius and Valentine.

Happy Valentine's Day. Enjoy your chocolate.

 

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