Remembering St. Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It’s interesting to me which saints’ days have become adopted for our American secular holidays. For instance, St. Valentinus, a third-century Roman priest, has become an opportunity in mid-February to celebrate love; alternatively, St. Patrick, a fourth- and fifth-century missionary to Ireland, has become an opportunity in mid-March to celebrate green beer. I, for one, find it unfortunate (and shocking!), that we don’t celebrate St. Lawrence Day (August 10): St. Lawrence, the second-century martyr, was roasted on a spit by Roman authorities, and became the patron saint of barbecue. How did we miss that one?

Sheldon Cooper, from "The Big Bang Theory," offering a more appropriate celebration of St. Valentine.

Sheldon Cooper, from “The Big Bang Theory,” offering a more appropriate celebration of St. Valentine.

Thankfully, today’s celebrations of Valentine’s Day have nothing to do with a priest’s violent death; regrettably, they also have little to do with why Valentine was martyred: for performing forbidden marriages in the name of Christ’s love for us. It’s hard to see in our socially accepted and expected ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day: flowers, chocolates, strawberries, hearts, Cupid, etc. anything more than yet another outlet for our cultural consumerism. I’ll admit, I bought my wife flowers, and chocolates, and earned points as a husband, and I also followed the social conventions of romantic gift-buying and date-planning. And I have loved all of it! There’s something deeply satisfying about being able to participate in romantic gestures, and know that they’re appreciated.

What are other ways we can celebrate Valentine’s Day? How can I celebrate my marriage in a way that really celebrates Christ’s love for us, in drawing us to himself and uniting us to each other as partners in discipleship? How can my sometimes-clumsy gestures of love for my wife really be equally-clumsy (if not more so) gestures of gratitude to God for his love for us?

For several years, my mom crafted a grand occasion on Valentine’s Day: a feast (complete with individual heart-shaped meatloafs and sparkling cider), gifts, cards, the works. We all dressed up and shared time together to celebrate God’s love for all of us and our love for each other as a family. That meal, a true “love feast,” was a profound example to us of how Valentine’s Day is about more than the grandiose romantic cliches we learn from romantic comedies and sit-coms, or the hand-decorated bags full of fun-sized candies taped to cards with terrible puns that we got from our classmates at school, or the Pinterest storm of sinfully decadent desserts, or whatever else we make today about to distract us from a profound encounter with God’s love for us.

I find it profound that we celebrate Valentine’s Day in the midst of the liturgical season of Epiphany, a worship season committed to listening for and paying attention to those places where God reveals himself, particularly in Jesus Christ. John 2:1-11 might be an appropriate text for today:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

At this wedding feast, Jesus Christ transforms an ordinary celebration of human love into an extraordinary demonstration of God’s love, by transforming the water for purification into “the good wine,” declaring himself to be the purification of human love and the source of delight and celebration within human love. May Jesus Christ, through the powerful (intoxicating?) presence of the Holy Spirit, transform our celebrations of love and romance and affection today into moments in which God himself might show up, and bless us with joy and delight in his good gifts.