Ah, St. Valentine’s Day!
This year this lovely festival of the saint and martyr, the celebration of love with roses, cards, and chocolate, coincides with Quinquagesima, the third Sunday of little Lent, the three weeks before Lent. And the Epistle today was about love.
St. Valentine is a figure shrouded in time, but nevertheless a real person who lived in the third century, martyred under Claudius. There were two Valentines of legend – a bishop from Terni and a Roman priest, and his conflated story has become intertwined with legends of mating and courtship in the medieval world. It is said he was imprisoned for helping Christians, in particular blessing their marriages, and for not worshiping the Roman gods. He was martyred for worshiping the God of Love, Christ Jesus.
The Epistle today was the stunning passage in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, defining love:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
We are out of town for a few days, staying on the Kohala Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, on our own retreat of sorts, and weaving our own bonds of faith, hope, and charity (love). Today looms with great joy, in its themes of sacrificial love, the beginning of the season of Lent in which we seek to truly understand what love is all about, to understand, to know the love of God and how it weaves through creation.
St. Valentine, I believe, understood that love, was willing to die for that love. He experienced the resurrected Christ, the reality of God with him, and among those early followers. For in the end, I am beginning to understand as well, as I research the first century for my novel-in-progress, that it is the resurrected Christ who is the historical figure, the figure we can say changed the world. From that point we can understand Scriptures and all that happened before.
Ash Wednesday nears and we prepare for Lent with Valentine’s Day, a Pauline festival to be sure, as we enter the greatest of all mysteries, Love, a love that never fails.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day, and Happy Quinquagesima, and may your Lent be a loving one…