The Feast of Saint Valentine
This Valentine’s Day has an additional irony in that it falls on Ash Wednesday. Pause there and consider what we celebrate on any given Valentine’s. February 14th is the feast day of a martyr from the 3rd century who died for his belief in Christ. More specifically, he was killed for celebrating the sacrament of marriage during a time when marriage was forbidden in Rome and polygamy was wildly popular. The emperor at the time thought unmarried soldiers would fare better in battle. St. Valentine knew better, and he married couples in secret. In other words, he was a defender of traditional family values.
It doesn’t make sense to commemorate the death of a Christian martyr if you reject Christianity. It certainly doesn’t make sense to celebrate a man who died for traditional marriage by eating chocolate and doing the horizontal mambo with someone we’re not married to.
The additional layer of Ash Wednesday propounds the irony. Picking and choosing the Christian element to recognize today shows a great inability on the part of Americans to think on a deeper level. This is a Christian feast day, which candidly, happens just about daily on the Roman Calendar. The Church gives priority order to conflicting dates based on importance. The beginning of Lent is far more important than the commemoration of St. Valentine, holy man though he was.
Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence. That means no meat, no celebratory meals. It means you can eat, but not a lot – 1 regular meal and 2 smaller meals, no snacking and no desserts. Christians do this as spiritual preparation, a small sacrifice for the God who gave all.
We celebrate a lot in America. I’m not here to say that football is bad, or that chocolate is bad. There’s good that comes out of football, and chocolate is so wonderful. The problem is the priority that we give these things. The problem is that in America today, we spend far too much time celebrating things, and not nearly enough time creating things worth celebrating.
Just a week and a half ago, virtually the entire nation huddled around TV’s to watch men in tights, drenched in sweat, chasing a trophy. We spend millions of dollars nationally for what is essentially a three hour event with no real meaning in our daily lives.
On Labor Day, we celebrate America’s outstanding productivity and work ethic… by taking the day off. It seems odd. Memorial Day is now essentially a day of picnics to kick off summer. How often do we talk about veterans who lost their lives in defense of the nation at those picnics? The 4th of July is celebrated with fireworks and frankfurters, with an incredible disconnect from the history-altering reality and sacrifices that happened to make this nation-of-excess a possibility.
Christmas is commercialized beyond comprehension. Easter is now generally about bunnies and sticky marshmallows. New Years Eve, when we make resolutions to change our lives and the world around us, so we get started by drinking enough to get blackout drunk.
The most egregious of all, Friday nights. Living from weekend to weekend, wishing away everyday from Monday to Thursday in pursuit of the weekend.
The word celebrate comes from the Latin, celebratus, meaning to honor or to keep solemn; hardly applicable to our observance of the above holidays.
What now? And some clarification
My point here is simple, if you’re not willing to participate in Ash Wednesday, there’s no reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day, because at the end of the day, they’re both Christian holidays and the Church is very clear on which one gets priority today.
Celebrating is not wrong, but we should only celebrate when we have something worth celebrating. If you’re excited to be alive, then by all means, celebrate! Enjoy the spoils of victory, a good life, love, friendships, family. Parties should commemorate something good, not be an excuse to dull the pain of everyday life.
Valentine’s Day should be about agape love, which is selfless, sacrificial and unconditional.
St. Valentine, were he alive today, wouldn’t be drinking champagne and eating steak tonight. He’d have ashes on his forehead and he’d be on his knees in prayer. So maybe we should, too.