Thursday, February 14, 2019

14 Tips for a Catholic Celebration of St. Valentine's Day

Catholic reactions to Valentine's Day range from a whole-hearted embracing of the day with all of its commercialized dimensions, to utter disdain, wishing nothing more than that the day might be obliterated from our calendar. But I would propose an approach different from both of these. I would, instead, advocate for an intentionally Catholic celebration of the day. After all, whether Valentine's Day is a Christian holiday that was secularized, or a pagan holiday that was Christianized and then re-secularized, or simply a commercial holiday made up for the benefit of merchants, the day is tied to the date of a Catholic feast. As Catholics, let's claim, or reclaim, this day as St. Valentine's Day, and let's celebrate it as one of our special Catholic days.

Below are 14 tips for how we can do so (plus a bonus one at the end). These suggestions are intended for Catholic couples, but others might benefit from them as well.

1) Remember Our Eternal Calling: The focus of Valentine's Day is a celebration of human romance, but if we think of the day as St. Valentine's Day, it is also a great day to remember our eternal calling. God calls each of us into an enteral relationship of love. God is love and has created us to share his love with us. We can find ultimate, existential fulfillment only by accepting God's love and requiting his love by giving ourselves to him fully. As someone once said, Christianity is not a religion; it is a proposal of marriage. On St. Valentine's Day, let us reflect on God's call to each of us, whether single, dating, engaged, married, to enter into an eternal relationship of love with him.

2) Learn About St. Valentine: Many articles have been written about the history of St. Valentine's Day, so I will provide just a few details here and will include links for further reading below. St. Valentine was a third century priest or bishop who was martyred for his Christian faith during the persecution of the Christians in Rome, on February 14. A number of theories have been advanced as to why his feast day later became associated with romantic love. One theory posits that St. Valentine helped Christian young men and women get married in secret when the Emperor Claudius II banned marriages in order to bolster participation in his military campaigns by young men. The custom of exchanging tokens of love on St. Valentine's Day dates back to Medieval times and is first mentioned by the poet Chaucer. The holiday was commercialized by enterprising merchants in the 19th century.

Further reading:

History of St. Valentine

3 Things You Might Not Know About St. Valentine

What You Might Not Know About St. Valentine's Day

Shrine of St Valentine, Whitefriar Street Church

3) Pray to St. Valentine: Quite a few groups of people and causes are included under the patronage of St. Valentine. Among them are the young, those in love, those engaged, and the cause of happy marriages. Catholic couples would do well to pray to St. Valentine for help and protection, particularly on February 14, since prayers to saints are especially powerful on their feast days. Below is a suggested prayer.

Prayer to St. Valentine
St. Valentine, glorious martyr for Christ,
Patron of those in love,
We pray that you bless our relationship,
Help us to stay holy, always focused on Christ,
That we may love each other with the love of Christ,
Unselfishly, willing to sacrifice for each other,
Willing to carry the Cross for each other,
So that we may help each other
To grow in faith, hope, and love,
Reaching ever closer to full union with our Lord,
Giving him honor, glory, and praise in all that we do.

4) Visit a Martyr's Shrine: If you live near a church or shrine dedicated to St. Valentine, make a point of visiting it on St. Valentine's Day. If no such places are to be found in your area, visit another church or shrine dedicated to the memory of a martyr.

5) Focus on Martyrs: Use this day as an opportunity to develop a relationship with the martyrs of Catholic history. Unfortunately, the word martyr is sometimes used in a negative sense in colloquial language, signifying someone who is overly dramatic in their self-sacrifice. But the original meaning of the word martyr is witness. Throughout Catholic history, martyrs have made the ultimate sacrifice to give witness to Christ, even to the shedding of their blood. They would rather lose their lives than deny Christ.

On St. Valentine's Day, commit to learning more about the lives of martyrs. Spend the next fourteen days reading about the life of a martyr every day. Also, start including prayers to the martyrs of our faith in your daily prayers.

6) Reflect on Self-sacrificial Love: A reflection on the lives of martyrs is very appropriate on a day that celebrates romantic love. True love is about unselfishly offering of ourselves for the benefit of the other, making sacrifices for the other, and if necessary, even laying our lives down for the other. Of course, in a healthy relationship, this sense of self-giving is from both sides. If only one person has a sacrificial outlook, and the other person just takes and does not give, the relationship will become toxic and abusive. But in a true love relationship, both sides foster an attitude of sacrificial self-giving, and it is precisely through such a disposition that they find lasting joy in their relationship.

7) Wear red: Red, of course, is the color associated with St. Valentine's Day. What many people don't realize is that red is the liturgical color commemorating martyrs. So wear red not because it is the color of romance, but because we are commemorating a martyr. If someone comments on your red attire, you could weave in a mention of honoring martyrs into your response.

8) Go to Mass Together: Many couples go out to eat on St. Valentine's Day. Romantic candle lit dinners can be wonderful. But before you eat out, take part in Mass, which is the anticipation of our eternal banquet with Christ. At Mass, we partake in the holy sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which gives meaning to our own self-sacrificial love. At Mass, we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, which gives us eternal life and the strength to persevere in our day-to-day lives. What could be a more beautiful celebration of love on St. Valentine's Day than to share Mass together as a couple?

9) Spend Time in Adoration Together: Praying together as a couple is fundamental to strong, healthy, lasting relationship. If you are not already spending some time in prayer together every day, make a commitment to do so. The best place for personal prayer is in Adoration, whenever possible. While Adoration is not always accessible, make a point of going to Adoration together as a couple on St. Valentine's Day. Spending time in prayer together before our Lord is an inexhaustible source of blessings.

While in Adoration on St. Valentine's Day, read and reflect on biblical verses about love and marriage. Many websites have compiled such verses, but I would especially recommend the following:

44 Refreshing Bible Verses About Love and Marriage

10) Turn to Our Holy Mother: The best way to strengthen your relationship is to bring it under the guidance and protection of our Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. On St. Valentine's Day, take some time to consecrate your relationship to Our Lady. After your consecration, pray the Rosary together. The Luminous Mysteries would be most appropriate, since the second Luminous Mystery is the Wedding at Cana. Below is a suggestion for a prayer of consecration. If you can make it to Adoration and are alone together in the Adoration chapel, there is no reason why you couldn't say this this prayer and the Rosary, as well as the other prayers recommended in this article, out loud. But if others are present, say the prayers somewhere else, where you are not disturbing the prayers of others.

Prayer of Consecration to Our Lady for Couples

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
Queen of Angels, Queen of Peace,
Queen of Martyrs and of All the Saints,
Today we consecrate our relationship to you.
Guide us, guard us, help us, and protect us.
Keep us safe from all attacks of the enemy,
All evil spirits seeking to destroy us.

Dear Mother,
Guide all our thoughts, words, and actions,
So that in all things we may live out God's will in our lives,
And that at all times we may draw closer to your Divine Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help us help each other grow in holiness, advancing each day
On the way of salvation and sanctification
So that we may join you and all the holy angels and saints
In giving glory, honor, and praise to our God
With our whole being, with all that we are.

11) Pray Over Each Other: Say a special prayer of blessing over each other for St. Valentine's Day, invoking our Lord, our Holy Mother, the martyrs and saints, and the holy angels. Pray to each other's guardian angels for each other. Below is a blessing prayer you could use.

Prayer of Blessing (Female Version)

Lord Jesus Christ, glorious King of Kings,
I pray that you bless [name] my [girlfriend, fiancée, wife].
Send your Holy Spirit upon her, and anoint her.
Cleanse her spiritually,
Keep her safe from all evil, all attacks of the enemy.
Heal her and keep her whole in body, mind, and spirit,
Help her love you with her whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Let her experience your infinite love for her,
Let her always say yes to the promptings of your Holy Spirit,
And let her be a shining beacon of your love in the world.

I pray also for the protection of our Holy Mother,
The Blessed Virgin Mary over [name],
And of all the holy angels, martyrs, and saints.
I ask all the holy souls in Purgatory to pray for her.

I also ask you, holy guardian angel of [name]
To watch over her, help her, guide her, and protect her,
And help to lead her to full union with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Blessing (Male Version)

Lord Jesus Christ, glorious King of Kings,
I pray that you bless [name] my [boyfriend, fiancé, husband].
Send your Holy Spirit upon him, and anoint him.
Cleanse him spiritually,
Keep him safe from all evil, all attacks of the enemy.
Heal him and keep him whole in body, mind, and spirit,
Help him love you with his whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Let him experience your infinite love for him,
Let him always say yes to the promptings of your Holy Spirit,
And let him be a shining beacon of your love in the world.

I pray also for the protection of our Holy Mother,
The Blessed Virgin Mary over [name],
And of all the holy angels, martyrs, and saints.
I ask all the holy souls in Purgatory to pray for him.

I also ask you, holy guardian angel of [name]
To watch over him, help him, guide him, and protect him,
And help to lead him to full union with our Lord Jesus Christ.

12) Learn About the Theology of the Body: If you haven't already done so, St. Valentine's Day is a great day to start learning about the Theology of the Body, a systematic expression of the Catholic understanding of God's vision for human relationships, based especially on the teachings of St. John Paul II.

For further reading, please see the following site: Theology of the Body

13) Give a Spiritual Gift: Some people are put off by the commercialized gift-giving on St. Valentine's Day. But giving gifts is fun, and there is nothing wrong with the practice as long as we do so in moderation and with good judgment. In addition to, or in place of, customary gifts like chocolates, flowers, jewelry, and the like, why not give a spiritually oriented gift? How about a holy picture, statue of Our Lady or of a saint, a holy medal, a beautiful Rosary, or something similar?

If you are good at crafts, you could also make something of a religious significance, like a Rosary. Or consider having a Mass said for your beloved. Also, if you plan ahead, you can order some of the more conventional gifts, like chocolates or jewelry, from a religious supplier, like a convent or monastery, where they earn their living by making such items for sale. You can then help to support the life of a religious community while getting something nice for your sweetheart.

14) Enjoy Yourself: The Catholic Church has never had a problem with merrymaking, as long as we have fun responsibly, in moderation, and in accordance with the boundaries of our state of life. So have some wholesome fun. Just don't do anything that you will need to mention in Confession later.

15) Bonus Tip: Since the stores are full of heart-shaped candies and chocolates, put some aside in the freezer, and bring them out for the feast of the Sacred Heart and the feast of the Immaculate Heart in the summer as a special treat to enjoy on those days.

Photo: Tomb of St. Valentine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Whitefriar Street in Dublin by Zoltan Abraham (c) 2018.

Monday, February 11, 2019

An Angel in the Dark: How Help Came to Me on My 8-hour Journey Home in the Snow

Another heavy snowfall hit the Seattle area on Friday, February 8, and I had quite an adventure. I left my work at 1:05pm, just as the snow started to fall, but I didn't get home until 9:00pm. What is normally a 35-40 minute commute turned into eight full hours.

Seattle comes in for a lot of mockery whenever we get snow. But we have some unique conditions to deal with in our area. For one, we have a high concentration of homes and businesses on very steep hills. Add to that fluctuating temperatures that lead to a cycle of freezing, uneven thawing, and refreezing, making for patches of ice in unpredictable places. What is more, the many hills and mountains create a large variety of microclimates, which makes it hard to plan, since one neighborhood might by slushy, while a few blocks away there could be inches of snow. Given that snow rarely falls in the area, our local governments cannot justify spending a lot of money on machinery and chemicals to clear all of the roads when a snowstorm does arrive. Nor are most drivers prepared for such weather, since we could go a year to two without seeing snow. All of which sets us up for the worst possible driving conditions...

As I headed home on February 8, I knew things were not working out well when it took me over 3 hours to go just five miles. At that point, I decided to stop for a break and a bite at the local Fred Meyer. As I headed out again, I tried to pick the best route on the basis of the traffic indications on my phone map. But, as it would turn out, I had made the wrong choice.

Throughout my trek, as I sat in traffic and later drove in the heavy snow, I kept my mind occupied by listening to music, talks, and an audiobook. I was determined to keep a good attitude. I was sure I would get home sooner or later and didn't panic as that later became much, much later.

But there was one pretty scary moment. After about six hours of trying to get home, as I was heading up a dark hilly area, I suddenly found that the road had a ton of snow, much more than just a short distance away. I definitely needed chains to navigate this section, but just then I also realized that one of my chains had come apart in one place, and I was not able to fix it without a tool, which I didn't have with me.

I was standing by my car in the snowfall, in the cold and dark, thinking that this time I was going to get stranded. Without the chains, I would not be able to go forward, nor would I be able to turn back. Nor was there any city center within walking distance. Perhaps I could ask for help at one of the nearby homes, but I was surrounded by large properties, where the houses were far from the road.

During my drive, I said various prayers as I progressed through the especially stressful parts. In this moment, I said a very simple, specific prayer. I simply said, "Mary, I really, really need some help now. Please help me out."

Not a minute went by, when a pickup truck came up the road and stopped. A young man got out and asked: "Are you doing okay there?" I told him my predicament, and he soon produced a tool that could get the chain fixed. Within a few minutes, I was able to get back on the road. He told me that he was just out and about testing his truck, so he had been on a number of routes. He gave me some good suggestions for how to proceed and recommended that I turn around and follow a different route. He blocked the road with his truck so I could take my time carefully jostling back and forth in the snow in order to change directions safely.

The rest of the drive was long but uneventful. I got home safe. I will probably never meet the young man in the truck again. If I did, I wouldn't recognize him, because I didn't get a good look at his face in the dark. I didn't even get his name in the midst of everything. But he was just the right person sent my way just at the right time. I am sure that his driving by and stopping when he did was no coincidence...

Picture: Our Lady of the Snow. As the first snowfall came this winter, our outdoor statue got an usual snow cover, making it look like someone is hugging Our Lady.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

February 2: Candlemas, the Purification, the Presentation, and the End of Christmas

In the Catholic Church, February 2 has traditionally been known as Candlemas, because the priest would bless candles at Mass, for use both at home and in the church.

Historically, this feast was celebrated as the Purification of the Virgin Mary, that is to say the end of the period of ritual impurity that a woman was considered to have after giving birth. In the new calendar, the day is celebrated as the Presentation of the Lord, when Mary and Joseph present the baby Jesus in the Temple, which concludes the ritual purification of the Virgin Mary. The two feasts are really the same, just approaching the same event, described in Luke 2:22-38, from different angles.

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. At the same time, the same event is also the First Sorrow of Mary, because it is at this time that Mary first learns, through the prophecy of Simeon, of the suffering that her son must later endure. The Seven Sorrows Rosary starts with a reflection on the Presentation.

In an old Catholic tradition, February 2 is also the day when the last of the Christmas decorations are taken down. Specifically, in many areas, including in the Vatican, the Nativity scene is kept out until February 2.

Further reading:

What is Candlemas Day?

The Tradition of Candlemas

Please note: The image above is from the web and is not my own.