Saint Valentine’s day has become an emotive celebration of red hearts and dark chocolate, behind which is the memorial of a rather obscure 3rd century martyr, who has been adopted as the patron saint of lovers and would-be lovers. Many legends have grown up around him, miracles and good deeds, including that he secretly married young couples in prison, and fostered courtships, which I have known priests and others to do, perhaps not with the success of Saint Valentine. He helped to get the new husbands released from military duty – a source of vexation to the emperor. It is also said that Valentine would cut out paper hearts to remind these men of their vows. He is also said to have cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness, sending her a note on the eve of his execution, signed ‘from your Valentine’.
Hence, some of mawkish customs we now have, in our hyper-emotive culture, with romance-of-the-moment, or the month, much of which only ends in bitterness. Is it better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all? I suppose that depends on what one has ‘lost’, and many, sadly, have been embittered by love; but God never intended it so. As someone once lamented, divorce means buying a house for a woman who hates you (or we may invert those ‘gender roles’ in today’s topsy-turvy, humpty-dumpty world)- to say nothing of the tragedy such turmoil brings to the children. As Scripture says, God hates divorce, but He loves love. There is a fine line between love and hate, and as the expression has it, extrema se tangunt, extremes touch each other.
But Saint Valentine, whatever the truth of his story, offers hope that love is indeed not only worth it, but worth everything. Amor vincit omnia, wrote Virgil in his Bucolics, et nos cedamus amori, and let us too yield to love. For in the end, the one true love is divine, the love God has for us, and we for God, which never fails, and which supports – or should support – all other of our loves. Only so will love really conquer all.
Today in the universal calendar we celebrate the ninth-century monks and missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius, patrons of Europe, who translated the Liturgy into Slavonic, allowing for the conversion of untold thousands into the Church. They have always been venerated as the ‘Apostles to the Slavs’, and Pope John Paul II wrote a 1985 encyclical on them, Slavorum Apostoli, and declared them co-patrons of Europe, along with the great Saint Benedict.
So let us pray for Europe, which need desperately to find its faith once again, if it is to survive. As Belloc wrote, Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe. Without Catholicism, Europe is just a geographical expression run by a gnostic coterie of socialist bureaucrats in Brussels, with a very fragile economic unity, about to be overwhelmed with those who do not share her once-cherished beliefs and customs.
And let us also pray for good and holy marriages, with lots of joyful and exuberant Catholic children to give us hope and joy into the succeeding generations.
Saints Cyril, Methodius and Valentine, orate pro nobis!