On a day when the secular world celebrates love, lust, and everything in between, the Church commemorates the lives of two outstanding missionaries – Saints Cyril and Methodius. February 14th is the feast day of these biological brothers, born in Thessalonica in 827 and 826. Their father was a military officer, but Cyril quickly renounced a life of politics and withdrew to a monastery. After a few years in government office, Methodius followed suit. When the Khazars (a Turkic people living in the Northern Caucasus region) requested a Christian teacher, Cyril and Methodius learned the language and lived among them as teachers and missionaries. Zeal for the Gospel drew the brothers westward to Moravia in central Europe where Cyril invented an alphabet so that the Scriptures might be translated into the Slavic tongue (the forerunner of modern Czech). The brothers also translated a Psalter and other liturgical books and developed a Slavonic liturgy for the Moravian converts.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius faced fierce opposition from German clergy for their use of a ‘vulgar’ language, instead of Latin, in a liturgical setting. They were vindicated when Pope Adrian approved Slavonic liturgy shortly before St. Cyril’s death, but St. Methodius was still subject to accusations of heresy and unorthodoxy for his use of the vernacular. He was sent into exile by Emperor Louis the German, but rescued by Pope John VIII. Such was St. Methodius’ enthusiasm for the vernacular that, as legend has it; he translated the entire Bible into Slavonic in eight months before his death in 882.
What do these celibate brothers have to do with chocolates, roses, and romance? Nothing exactly. Sts. Cyril and Methodius are about as far removed from the secular Valentine’s Day as St. Valentine and the other St. Valentine. And yet, the Greek brothers had unique insight into the human heart. Sts. Cyril and Methodius succeeded where German missionaries failed because they knew how important it was for the Moravians to hear the Gospel preached in their own tongue. The saintly brothers endured persecution in order to speak plainly of the mysterious love of God.
Learning from Experts
Relationships – even the most intimate – can feel as foreign as Moravia must have felt to Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Most couples come to a point in their marriage when words fail and the spouses find themselves floundering. Catholic author and marriage counselor, Dr. Gregory Popcak, explains that each one of us has a preferred way of receiving and giving affection – a “love language” which is a complex composite of our experiences. Confusion and miscommunication occur when spouses “talk” past each other using the sense or senses they find most meaningful. A visual lover might buy flowers or write a card to show affection. A kinesthetic lover, on the other hand, might think flowers were “nice,” but would feel truly loved if her spouse wrapped his arms around her waist as she washed dishes.
The trick in marriage and in all meaningful relationships is to learn to speak the language of the other. Here we can learn from the paradigm established by Sts. Cyril and Methodius. The Saints learned the vastly different languages of Khazar and Moravia through immersion in the culture of each. In order to share their passion for the Gospel and to convince their flock of the love of God, the brothers devised a whole new alphabet. Finally, Sts. Cyril and Methodius composed a beautiful, vernacular liturgy – which they defended to their dying day — so that the converts might encounter God in words of the Scriptures and in the vulnerability of the Blessed Sacrament.
Invent an Alphabet
In honor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, try a little exercise this Valentine’s day. Observe your spouse. Think about what excites him. Does he love discussing politics? Recounting stories from work or running through sports stats? Watch his facial expressions. What elicits a smile? What does he find frustrating or irritating? You might also want to consider differences in preference that have caused arguments in the past. Perhaps you’ve refused to daydream about the future with your spouse because it seems impractical. Or, you’ve ignored your spouse’s not-so-subtle hints that anniversary flowers would be appreciated because you don’t want to be classed a sentimental fool. Arguments can give valuable information about different modes of communicating affection. If all else fails, try asking: “what makes you feel especially loved and cherished?” You may be very surprised by the answer.
Now comes the tricky part: create an alphabet for your spouse’s love language. The vocation of a married couple is to lead one another to God, so translate the love of God into a language your spouse will understand. If your wife is primarily an auditory learner, share your thoughts. Tell her you love her even if it feels awkward and uncomfortable. If your husband treasures the sense of sight, give him opportunity to glory in the beauty the world even if it seems like a waste of time to tidy the house around the kids or put on a pretty blouse.
As Dr. Popchak points out, God gave us five senses and he intends to reveal himself to us through all of them. In the case of a married person, God may be revealing himself by asking you to sacrifice your own sensory sensibilities for the sake of your loved one. Showing your auditory spouse kinesthetic signs of affection makes about as much sense as preaching to the Moravians in Latin. She just won’t understand.
Instead, use a new alphabet – your understanding of what makes your spouse feel loved — to compose a practical liturgy for daily life. Make it a habit to communicate to your spouse, in a way she understands, that she is cherished. Every dish washed, every hug and kiss, every kind word and sunset enjoyed together is an offering of praise to the God who made our hearts, minds, and bodies for love.