St Valentine is the one saint with a feast day (Feb 14) that is known by millions of people, including non-Christians. But how many know why he is a saint?
The back story is that Valentine, a Roman priest at the time of Claudius II, was imprisoned for conducting secret weddings against the orders of the emperor. The prohibition was an attempt to avoid his military recruits being distracted by wives and families.
St Valentine, moved by the heartache of young couples, risked his life to sanctify their love in marriage. After a period of imprisonment, where St Valentine continued to minister and preach to the guards and inmates, he was executed.
Called to Holiness
When we were young, we thought being a saint was just for the spiritual elite. Ordinary people like our parents, cousins, friends and so on, could admire them and imitate their qualities, but we never thought we were expected to become saints ourselves. We just weren’t that holy.
Not true! Holiness is not like some rare superpower that only a few possess – it is a capacity in every person. The innate desire for union with God is planted in every one of us.
A saint is one for whom this desire is developed to full expression and has now entered heaven. And heaven is for all of us – young or old, married, single, ordained or consecrated. God calls us all to holiness.
Unique and Personal
Pope Francis reminds us that God does not call us anonymously and generically. Rather, he extends a personal call to each person.
“We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. … The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts, rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them.” (Gaudete et Exsultate 11)
In other words, when we grow in holiness, we become more of who we truly are, not less. While the example of saints like Valentine can inspire and encourage us, God wants us to seek holiness in our unique circumstances and ordinary daily life.
Day by day
Pope Francis points out that, wherever we find ourselves and in everything we do, we are called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness.
“Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.” (Gaudete et Exsultate 14)
It’s a mistake to think that holiness requires doing something extraordinary, like being a martyr (like St Valentine) or starting a religious order. Rather, holiness is to be pursued in the way we undertake our ordinary daily activities, especially in our families.
St Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things. It consists in accepting, with a smile, what Jesus sends us.” She was known for the way she communicated love by smiling at every person she met.
“Smile at each other. Smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help to grow up in greater love for each other.”
Holiness doesn’t get much simpler than that. Let us smile at each other with tenderness and love, starting at home.
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