Valentine’s Day (in addition to Cyril and Methodius) is, of course, the feast day of St. Valentine—a 3rd century priest who was martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Claudius the Goth. His connection to a romantic love-fest is not immediately obvious. My mother mentions in A Continual Feast that the most likely reason for the association of Valentine’s Day with lovers is that birds were believed to mate on February 14th, and so lovers followed suit, asking the martyr to bless them in their choice of mate. Valentine’s Day seems like a natural day to extend and expand our celebration of love: first, by recognizing love in all its depth and forms; including corny love poetry, but not limiting it to that. It also makes sense to recognize (as medieval lovers did) our need for assistance in choosing our mates, and finding our vocations. Valentine’s Day, a celebration of lovers on the feast day of a priest and martyr, is a perfect moment to reflect on vocations in general, and celebrate not just earthly love, but the divine source of that earthly love. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves, and our families, that our love for even those nearest to us is rooted in a love beyond ourselves, a love which comes to us, first and foremost, as a gift.
On a practical level, we may want to integrate this awareness of our vocation as a gift into our celebration of the day. Telling stories of how you met your spouse, and also recalling how other important people have entered our lives as gifts might be one great way: the birth of children is always a great event that we recognize as a gift (particularly evident to me right now since my baby son was born just a month ago!). I know my children love hearing stories about themselves, and when they were born. Why not retell those events, recognizing the graciousness of their arrival in our lives? We might also want to read some Lives of the Saints that feature intense or dramatic vocations: both to the married life and to the priesthood. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, and Saint Francis of Assisi are a couple of examples that might be worth considering, as is the amazing life of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. During this Year of the Priest, too, it would be beautiful to celebrate all vocations on Valentine's Day…Why not invite a priest for dinner? (For one thing, they’re less likely to have other plans!)