Live out Christ’s true love and have a really happy St. Valentine’s Day

On Valentine’s Day and all days, we have in the saints and martyrs (like St. Valentine, shown in stained glass at right) a wonderful gift, writes Father Luke Spannagel. “They show us what it means to live out the love of Christ.” (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody and CNS/Paul Haring)

By Father Luke Spannagel

While February is our shortest month in terms of number of days, to be honest, it often feels like a long month because of the cold dreariness of winter.  For many people, one bright spot in this month that sometimes drags occurs on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. On the surface, this holiday is about exchanging cards with red hearts and candy for our younger people, roses and fine chocolates for our grownups.  However, below the surface this day is a reminder of the true love we have for God and each other.

As many of you may know, the origins of this “feast day” lies with three ancient martyrs named Valentine who shared the same day — Feb. 14 — in the list of martyrs.  Each of these men was a martyr for the Christian Faith and each of them was honored for that sacrifice by the early Church.

“How does a day for martyrs become a day for sweethearts?” asks Father Luke Spannagel

So how does a day to honor martyrs become a day for sweethearts? Many scholars will point to the Middle Ages and talk about Geoffrey Chaucer or other writers who noted that Feb. 14 was the day when birds chose their mates.  I suppose it makes sense:  if people saw birds pairing up, it would be a reminder of the people they are “paired with.”

Even in the midst of some respectable history, for me the best explanation of this feast day goes back to the beginning with our three St. Valentines.  In the gospels, Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind — and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (cf. Mt 22:36-40)  He also taught us to love one another as he loved us. (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12)  These familiar passages remind us to love God with all that we have and to look to Jesus as a model of that love.

How did Jesus love?  Jesus loved in humility being born in Bethlehem; loved in obedience to Mary and Joseph; loved in truth through his words; loved in generosity with those in need; loved in gentleness with little children; loved in sacrifice in giving everything he had for us, giving it all on the cross so that our hearts could be free.

Does that sound like a lot? It is! To look upon the perfect love of Jesus can sometimes be overwhelming — especially if we see that our love has much growing to do! Thankfully, we have in the saints and martyrs a wonderful gift: they show us what it means to live out the love of Christ . . . and they show us that we can do it too!  The martyrs love in the same way Jesus loved, giving all they have in faithfulness to Christ and the Church. They don’t hold back when it might be easier, safer, or more convenient for them. They generously give everything they can, trusting in God to take care of them and bring happiness to their hearts.

What if we all decide to really love in this way during the month of February? What if we look for opportunities to make sacrifices for each other? What if we decide to give all that we have to God and to one another? If we do this, then February won’t be dreary at all! Instead, it could be become the brightest and most wonderful month of all!

Friends, let us not just love in speech (or red heart-shaped cards), but in action and in truth! (cf. 1 John 3:18, 4:7-12)

Father Luke Spannagel is head chaplain and director of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois. His column, “Chalices and Calluses,” appears regularly in The Catholic Post. Write to him at frluke@sjcnc.org.

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