February 14th, what an exciting day! Of course it is the date we celebrate Valentine’s Day. There is more to this day than a simple marketing ploy by Hallmark to create a holiday in which a plethora of cards can be sold, along with roses, boxes of chocolates, and candle lit dinners for two. (Wow that sounds nice. I remember now what it was like before I had kids). There is indeed a St. Valentine who is on the Roman Catholic list of saints. However, the details of his life are not entirely clear. He is believed to have lived in Rome and to have been martyred there for witnessing to the Faith in the third century. His feast day was celebrated on February 14th until the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 under Blessed Paul VI (cf. catholic.org), and it is still celebrated in some places.
Valentine’s Day is typically thought of as a day to celebrate love. We as Catholics can be especially joyful when we celebrate the holiday as a day of love. First and foremost we call to mind our God who is love (1 John 4:8). God loved us so much that He incarnated His love in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And St. Paul explains that, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So if we buy red roses or see others buying red roses on Valentine’s Day, we can reflect on the blood of Christ that flowed from His side on Calvary as a sign of His love for us. We can reflect on the martyrdom of St. Valentine who died because he refused to deny Jesus. If we see people buying chocolates in the shape of a heart, we can reflect on the Sacred Heart of Jesus which burns with love for each of us. And when two people enjoy a candle lit dinner, they can reflect on the sacred meal that is the Eucharist with Jesus who is the light of the world (cf. John 8:12).
February 14th is also the Feast Day of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. They’re two brothers who were bishops in the ninth century. St. John Paul II actually wrote an entire encyclical letter about the two, stating, “THE APOSTLES OF THE SLAVS, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are remembered by the Church together with the great work of evangelization which they carried out” (Slavorum Apostoli 1). Cyril and Methodius are known for playing a major role in bringing Christianity to the Slavic people. They’re co-patron saints of Europe (Ibid.). I am particularly drawn to their story since my ancestors first came to the United States from Poland. And the first Polish pope, St. John Paul II, explained that while the evangelization of Poland stemmed from a few historical events, “the fact remains that the beginnings of Christianity in Poland are in a way linked with the work of the Brothers…” (Slavorum Apostoli 24). As we reflect on how our Catholic Faith has been handed on from generation to generation, from one person to another under the guidance of the successors to the Apostles the bishops, I can reflect on how the Gospel first influenced those Slavic people in the ninth century. At some point, one of my ancestors heard and accepted the Gospel and would hand it on to his or her ancestors or family members.
February 14th is a special day for me indeed. It is a special day to celebrate God’s love and to recall St. Valentine’s courage in proclaiming the Gospel. It is a day to reflect on how the Gospel was effectively proclaimed to the Slavic people through the brothers Ss. Cyril and Methodius. These two set out to a foreign land trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide them to speak and live the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15). And February 14th is also a special day for me because it happens to be my birthday… but I won’t share which one.
Ss. Valentine, Cyril, Methodius, and John Paul II, pray for us!
Edward Trendowski teaches family life ministry for Saint Joseph’s College Online.