For a number of years we have been involved in the St Valentine’s Day initiative of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council. It’s a simple project: provide an easily reproducible print kit to Catholic parishes, schools and family movements with content relevant to married and engaged couples.
When talking about this resource we get perplexed looks from people – why would the Church promote an already over-commercialised, increasingly trivial, secular event?
It is true that the secular response to St Valentine has completely lost sight of the original person and meaning. The true story of St Valentine, like most early saints is mostly lost to the mists of time, but our best understanding is that he was a priest in Rome under Emperor Claudius II. When the Emperor forbade young men to marry so as to more easily recruit them into his army, St Valentine began conducting secret weddings. For this he was arrested and imprisoned and eventually executed. His life stands as a testament to the importance of life-long romantic love, sacrificing his liberty and his life in order to support couples in their pursuit of marital holiness.
Now there’s a message worthy for the modern Church! How many of us would be prepared to give up so much to assist a young couple in this way? In our work in marriage preparation all too often we hear of engaged couples feeling unwelcome when they approach a parish to be married; especially if they do not obviously practice their faith or live outside the parish boundaries. St Valentine is an inspiration not just for starry-eyed lovers and romantic diehards – he is a great example for all of us in the Church; calling us to renew our enthusiasm and encouragement for marriage.
So now the St Valentine’s initiative starts to make sense. As a Church we need to remind ourselves, as much as the secular world around us; that married love is a sacramental witness to God’s presence. A reminder that a life of romance blossoms and deepens within the protection of the marriage commitment and it is our duty as the People of God to support and encourage all couples throughout their married life to foster their romantic affection.
So as a Church we should be pointing out to the world that SAINT Valentine’s day is an important reminder that romantic love, and the marriages that are built and maintained by it, are the foundations of healthy, stable families; that the day exists, not just for those who are dating, engaged or married, but for us all: marriage and the romantic love upon which it is built, makes an irreplaceable contribution to the welfare of every person in our society.
In its own small way, this St Valentine’s initiative is a bit like the other big challenge we face as Christians in an increasingly secular culture; that of ‘keeping Christ in Christmas’. Let us all join together in ‘keeping the Saint in St Valentine’s Day’!
To access the St Valentine’s day handout and the resource kit for your parish, visit www.acmfc.org.au