Thursday, February 14, 2008

St. Valentines Feast Day

Is Valentines just for lovers? You bet...lovers of the one who made you!

A quick quiz: St. Valentine was:

a) a priest in the Roman Empire who helped persecuted Christians during the reign of Claudius II, was thrown in jail and later beheaded on Feb. 14.

b) a Catholic bishop of Terni who was beheaded, also during the reign of Claudius II.

c) someone who secretly married couples when marriage was forbidden, or suffered in Africa, or wrote letters to his jailer's daughter, and was probably beheaded.

d) all, some, or possibly none of the above.

If you guessed d), give yourself a box of chocolates. Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine's Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. (Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate.) Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.

The roots of St. Valentine's Day lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on Feb. 15. For 800 years the Romans had dedicated this day to the god Lupercus. On Lupercalia, a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year.

Pope Gelasius I was, understandably, less than thrilled with this custom. So he changed the lottery to have both young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year (a change that no doubt disappointed a few young men). Instead of Lupercus, the patron of the feast became Valentine. For Roman men, the day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women, and it became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine's name.

There was also a conventional belief in Europe during the Middle Ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved. Legend has it that Charles, duke of Orleans, sent the first real Valentine card to his wife in 1415, when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. (He, however, was not beheaded, and died a half-century later of old age.)

What about Love Letters?

The practice of writing letters has been around for a long time. In fact, the Bible is filled with letters—to the Romans, the Corinthians, Timothy, among others.

Letters can be used to inform, scold, praise, entertain or endear. The U.S. bishops write letters to presidents, policymakers and others to help make the Church teachings and positions known. Individual bishops write letters, too, to their people to inform and encourage them. People write letters to members of Congress to weigh in on certain legislative issues. When a network announces it will be canceling a popular television program, what is often the first course of action? A letter-writing campaign.

Letters can also serve as lifelines for loved ones separated by distance, war, employment and many other circumstances. Or they can help bridge a gap between people who may be fighting or are estranged, and just aren’t ready to speak face-to-face.

Spread a Little Love

Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to let the people in your life know how much you love and care about them. Here are some ways you can express your love on this special day:

• Use heart-shaped cookie cutters to cut out your kids’ sandwiches for lunch. Draw hearts or place heart stickers on their lunch bags. And don’t forget to add a note telling them how much you love them and why. You can also do the same thing for your husband or wife.

• One year I surprised my husband on Valentine’s Day by filling his car with red balloons. I attached a note to each of the balloons highlighting something I love about him.

• Have the kids help you bake heart-shaped cookies and deliver them to grandparents, neighbors, residents of a nursing home or anyone else you think might enjoy receiving a treat.

• Focus on the true meaning of Valentine’s Day. Aside from the cards, gifts, etc., the purpose of the day is to let those we care about know we love them. This Valentine’s Day, tell family members and friends just how much they truly mean to you.

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