I know a lot of people who have a beef with the commercialization of Christmas. Every holiday season we're inundated with images of a jolly old chap selling us Coca-Cola, every product imaginable, as well as an array of toys that defies my imagination. To some extent I expect it at Christmas these days. And if the birth of Christ is open game, I shouldn't be surprised by the sickeningly sweet shades of pink and red that are washing over the local stores. Not that they're just starting to spread. Most retail outlets had at least one Valentine's Day aisle while Christmas shopping was still in full force. It feels like a slow-spread disease, the symptoms of which are forced displays of affection, a blindness to any colour not in the family of red or pink, and high blood sugars from excessive chocolate consumption. While I'm sure a lot of folks aren't just making displays of affection for Valentine's Day and are daily making their significant others feel beloved, I wonder why it feels like the message is to absolutely spoil your partner or spouse for the one day, but not to focus on the other 364 days. Even if you are a spontaneous person who spoils your loved ones in unexpected ways and on any day, the expectations behind this singular day are so huge, how can even the most loving person manage to keep up? It seems, according to the media and consumer stores, that I'm supposed to be expecting spa packages, special meals, cards, gifts, special mementos and so much more from my husband. Apparently all that is required of me is that I show up to be loved, maybe get him a card, and watch some hockey. I feel like something's been lost in translation.
St. Valentine must be rolling his eyes up in Heaven. Here a was a man, a priest, who gave his life to God and to God's Church every day of his life up until the moment he was brutally martyred. He was a man of daily charity to those who relied on him to give them the Sacraments. St. Valentine is associated with romantic love because he risked his life to help couples celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage at a time when Christianity was prohibited in the Roman Empire. At any point he could have given up his clandestine works of devotion to his flock, but he continued on until he was arrested and martyred. To me, this seems so much at odds with the current incarnation of his feast day. Here's a man, a beautiful image of sacrificial love, whose feast day is being used for indulgence, selfish expectations, and excess. The couples for whom he risked his life to witness the Sacrament of their Marriage, must be up there in Heaven rolling their eyes too. They had to gather in secret locations away from the eyes of the Roman law to sanctify their union. I'm pretty sure the idea of chocolates and spa treatments seem empty next to the freedom to celebrate their faith in peace. I may be speaking out of turn, but I'm pretty sure these couples would be at Mass on February 14th, giving thanks to God for the priest who gave everything to God and to them.
All of this leads me to reflect that if we're going to set St. Valentine's day apart as a special day, it shouldn't be a day to celebrate saccharine emotional displays. It should be a day to emulate that sacrificial love that St. Valentine lived unto his own death. And like St. Valentine, it shouldn't just be on one day, it should be the act of every day. While I think it's always great to remind people around us that we love them, I think we should go well past just saying it, and prove it year round, by devoting small duties and prayers to ease their path and bring them closer to God. Through the daily administering of his duties, St. Valentine brought Christ to those around him. This St. Valentine's Day, perhaps what we could do for those we loved would be to pray for them, offer Mass, and instead of handing over our money to the stores for the sake of trinkets and foods, give our loved ones the gift of ourselves. Maybe that means sitting down and taking extra time to listen to them, or pray with them, or even letting them go and take a nap when they get home after a long day. All the things that society tells us will express our love will only last a day or two. The flowers will wilt, the chocolates will be eaten, the cards will find their way into the recycling, but the gift of yourself will build up your relationship in a truly lasting way that could snowball and improve your relationship for the rest of your lives together.