Saint Valentine Helped Lovers. Why?
Published by Michael Novak at Patheos.com on February 13, 2015
It is fitting that a Catholic priest and saint is still celebrated 1,800 years after his death – and for his help to lovers. At the heart of the Catholic faith is love. For the Catholic tradition (the richest, deepest tradition of understanding love in the entire world) the proper name for God is that most creative form of love, Caritas.
This love is the energy that pulses through all other loves. This love is the love that gave birth to the whole still-expanding universe, with all its galaxies, and galaxies beyond galaxies. Our universe was conceived in Caritas. Our earth in the most special way of all.
Saint Valentine, a parish priest in Rome, understood that human happiness, too, for most people, rests deepest in the love between a man and a woman. He became a favorite to young people approaching marriage, who sought him for counsel and comfort, to prepare them for their marriage ceremonies.
“Man and woman He made them. In His image, he made them” (Gen 1:27). This passage suggests that God’s image radiates best of all in woman and in man, conjoined. That is, not only in the man, not only in the woman, but best of all in their union.
For man alone (Adam) was incomplete, was lonely, had no one even to talk to. Life on earth without conversation would be almost unbearable, I think. Man alone would not even be able to sit alone with the woman he loves in a most peaceful, joyous communion. He would not have a lover to caress, or to hug, or to make himself one with. Man and woman together: There best dwells the image of God.
Moreover, the Lord Jesus made the union of man and woman in marriage a special vessel of grace, a sacrament, one of those mystical rites instituted by Christ himself, that at once binds a woman and a man as one, and also brings about that miraculous (but natural) creation of a much loved baby from their union. So creative is that love! Sprung from the Caritas that diffuses itself through all creation since the first moment of time.
In one of the greatest lines of world poetry, Dante bows gently toward “the Love that moves the sun and all the stars.” Many moralists speak of love as the one fundamental and universal moral principle, the golden rule honored in all traditions. But what do we mean by love?
At its deepest source it is Caritas, God’s own love that in Him is so strong it generates another Person, His Son. Their mutual love then generates a Third. Caritas is the inner action of the Trinity. As God’s love flows outward in a creative act, so also the love of married couples creates a new personification of love. Caritas is our participation in a way of loving not our own. It is our participation – partial, fitful, hesitant, imperfect – in His own loving. So Saint Valentine, the urban pastor, was right: marriage is a participation in the creativity of God’s own love.