It was Valentine’s Day during my freshman year of college. I was a sacristan for my dorm, and I was eagerly preparing things for Mass in the sacristy. Fr. Bill, a jovial Australian priest who was well-loved around campus and in Lewis Hall, arrived for Mass.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Father! Are there any special readings for St. Valentine?” I eagerly asked.
“Listen, Sport,” he said, in his Australian accent, calling me the affectionate nickname he used for all of the students in his life. “St. Valentine, poor chap, he isn’t on the liturgical calendar anymore.”
“What? What do you mean? Why?! Are you sure?”
“Well, you see, Sport…we just don’t know much about his life. But we can celebrate good old Cyril and Methodius today.”
Needless to say, I was disappointed.
St. Valentine – Still a Saint?
St. Valentine was one of many saints who were removed from the liturgical calendar in 1969, due to (as Fr. Bill tried to gently explain to me) a lack of concrete knowledge about his life. He is, however, still considered a saint in the Church.
Although we know little about his life, some of the stories that have been passed down to us are about his secretly marrying couples in defiance of Roman mandates. As a priest, we certainly know that he would have married couples (and a holy enough priest to have been martyred, as other stories tell us). It is fitting that he is the patron saint of those who are in love, and now is a better time than any to invoke his intercession.
St. Valentine’s Intercession for Our Vocations
I have been married to my husband for the last decade, and I am more grateful for my vocation with each passing year. However, our marriage would not be as strong as it is were in not for our relationship with God and the support of good and holy priests we have befriended in the past ten years. They have delighted in the gift of our vocation, shared our joy in good times, our sorrow in bad, and prayed for us and supported us in times of suffering. I would imagine that Valentine was the sort of priest who would have gladly done the same for the married couples he knew.
Maybe you have priests like that in your life. Maybe you don’t. Either way, St. Valentine is a good saint to ask for support and prayers in your own marriage — whether you are newly engaged or approaching your golden anniversary.
Likewise, if you are still in the discernment stage of your vocation (especially if you feel the pull toward marriage but haven’t yet met a spouse) Valentine would be the person to ask to pray for clarity in your discernment. He surely assisted many people in their discernment throughout his life as a priest.
St. Valentine’s Intercession for Our Culture
Even aside from our personal vocations, St. Valentine is a timely saint for the world that we live in today. Like in his own time, marriage is misunderstood and devalued. Worse, it is sometimes defined in ways that go directly against the teachings of our faith. Just as in Valentine’s culture, we also live in a culture that discourages marriage, leading to an increase in unmarried, co-habiting couples.
Likely, most of us know people who are living in a way that is contrary to the teachings of the Church about marriage. We may know couples who are divorced and have remarried others, or same sex couples, or co-habiting couples. Likely, you know people in your own family who strongly disagree with Church teachings on marriage. In the face of that opposition, what can we do?
Although our initial tendency is often to try to explain or argue the truth of Catholic teaching with those who disagree with us, these particular issues are fraught with emotions. Those living in marriages that are not valid in the eyes of the Church may not be open to hearing that. Depending on your relationship with the couple in question, you can try to charitably express Church teaching.
But what if that is ineffective? Ask for the intercession of St. Valentine. As someone who lived in a culture that was opposed to Church teaching on marriage, he likely knew many who weren’t living in valid marriages. To those in this situation, he can bring the prayers and the heart of a pastor – one who knows firsthand how dear these sheep are to the Good Shepherd.
Even if there aren’t official readings or prayers in the liturgical cycle for St. Valentine, you can still celebrate the feast and the life of this saint. Eat some chocolate. Give cards to those you love. But most importantly, ask St. Valentine to pray for your own vocation and for the crisis of marriage in our culture today.
image: Statue of Saint Valentine in Terni, Italy.