St. Valentine’s Day is often berated as “fake” holiday, a contrivance of florists and greeting card companies. And, yes, certainly it has become a source of commercial revenue, as well a source of anxiety for those with or without romantic relationships. But, as my priest reminded me today, this day is a time to remember and celebrate a love that goes deeper than romantic devotion, a love that leads unto death.
There are three different Valentines in church history, but all of them were canonized because they suffered martyrdom for their faith. At least two of the three were priests. It’s curious, I think, that a holiday we associate so strongly with roses and chocolates and candle lit dinners is a HOLY day because of the passionate love that these celibate men cherished for God. They were so devoted to Christ, so eager to give all of themselves to Him that they didn’t hold back a thing, not even their very lives. Is this not more inspiring than a Hallmark card? Does this rich, painful history not cause you to question the very nature of love itself?
I never put much thought into joining holy orders or taking a vow of celibacy–I suppose you could say it just wasn’t my vocation. But I’m fascinated by people who make that choice: such a wildly counter-cultural, fanatical choice! They must say No to dating and kisses and marriage and babies and so many aspects of family life. It seems like a little tragedy–a woman giving up the opportunity to be a mother or a man letting go of the hope of finding the perfect girl.
Yet, in return for this sacrifice, they’re given the grace to say Yes to so much more. Monks and nuns say yes to communal life, and in doing so gain hundreds of true brothers and sisters. Priests say yes to their parish, gaining countless children to watch over, love, and receive love from. And in some mysterious way, these souls who reject earthly romance are allowed to discover a beautiful, romantic intimacy with Christ. Like St. Teresa of Avila, who was literally swept off her feet by the love of God as she levitated in prayer, I think those who have chosen Holy Orders come more easily into an experience understanding of sacred romance.
Easy for me to say, right? I’m grateful for my warm-hearted, loving husband and the security he brings to my life. I’m still in awe of the child that’s growing inside me (so heavily these days) and so eager to meet him. I have not chosen the difficult path of loneliness and isolation that many brothers and sisters must travel, and so it’s easy for me to romanticize that life. Let me just say that I’m thankful for those who sacrifice for a greater love: grateful for their prayers for the world, grateful for their work in the world, and grateful for their devotion to lives of holiness.
And in the meantime, I pray I’ll continue to grow in love and gratefulness for my own valentine–the best in the world.