February 4, 2011

by Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

Okay, I understand that every day of the church calendar is populated with far more saints than can possibly be accommodated in the course of a year. But I have never understood why St.  Valentine, bishop and martyr, was summarily cleared from February 14th to make way for Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs, who, prior to the Second Vatican Council already had a perfectly good feast day on July 7th.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m as in favor of cheese blintzes and the Cyrillic alphabet as the next guy, but I’m disappointed that the Church actually had a feast day on the calendar for a saint associated with romantic love (and marriage) and chose to get rid of it.

Presumably, the curial official in the Congregation of Rites responsible for assigning (and reassigning) saints’ days was not married. Although perhaps the decision to axe St. Valentine’s Day would have been an indicator that he was clearly not called to the married vocation in the first place.

Even though Bishop Valentine continues to languish in that corner of paradise reserved for saints who’ve been removed from the church calendar, and despite the crass commercialization of yet another holy day, I like St. Valentine’s Day. Its theme of finding and renewing love is marvelously, unabashedly sentimental and romantic, and features hearts and flowers.

Although the author would, I suspect, heartily disapprove of how we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day in the 21st century, I’d love to find a Hallmark card with this message from the second century North African Church Father, Tertullian.

How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering [the Eucharist], sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? … How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service!They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and in flesh, truly two in one flesh.  Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.

I appreciate what Tertullian wrote (quoted at ∫1642 in the discussion of marriage in the Catechism).  But even more, I love the fact that he wrote it at all. He unfortunately ended up joining Montanists, a heretical puritanical sect that denied the Incarnation. Needless to say, the Montanists had little use for the flesh and even less for marriage.

The sacramentality of marriage should be a vivid reminder to us that our Christian faith is not a philosophy but a relationship with God incarnate in the person of Jesus. That the Church numbers marriage among the sacraments is not simply to say that God blesses marriage and married life, but rather the assertion that through marriage, spouses participate, body, soul and spirit in the mystery of Christ for their own sanctification and salvation and that of the world.

Christ is at the heart of all of the shared joys, sorrows, hopes and anxieties of married life. Every dimension of married life lived out in charity and self-giving is blessed, sanctified and holy.  Despite our faults and failings and sins, our marriages, lived out authentically, are a school for Christian holiness.

. Even Tertullian, before he went off the deep end and joined the Montanists, understood and appreciated the beauty, goodness and truth of the faithful and loving bond between husbands and wives.  Parts of his little treatise on marriage Ad Uxorem (To His Wife) continue to be profitable spiritual reading. I like to think that being married to his wife brought out the best in him

A few weeks ago in Hoonah I witnessed the power of this “wonderful bond between believers” at the funeral of Carl Greenewald Sr. He was buried next to his wife Cecilia, who had died eight months before him, on their 61st wedding anniversary. At the conclusion of the brief graveside service led by Fr. Scott Settimo, his children and grandchildren spoke of how much this couple had loved each other and of their gratitude for what a blessing their loving and faithful marriage continued to be for them. The knowledge that they were together again forever was an occasion for joy, even on that sad day. I am grateful for the witness of these two good and loving people.

St. Valentine’s Day is on the 14th of February.  This year, on the 13th, dioceses and parishes throughout the United States will be observing World Marriage Day. This year’s theme is: “Love One Another.” An initiative of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, World Marriage Day received the Apostolic Blessing of Pope John Paul II in 1993.

Both days are great opportunities for all of us who are married to remember why we fell in love with our sweethearts in the first place, to renew our love for each other and to recommit ourselves to loving one another as husbands and wives.