A couple I’ve known for years has a large collage of family pictures on their living room wall, with images from every season in their history — a framed chronicle of four generations.
In one corner are my friends’ senior portraits: two bright-eyed high school sweethearts, ready to take on the world and everything it had to offer. A candid shot from their wedding sparkles with laughing smiles and swirling lace.
Further up are scenes from the early days of their marriage, when desire and daily responsibilities learned to dance, sometimes hesitantly. Wise elders, who had long mastered such rhythms, can be glimpsed over birthday cakes and crowded Christmas morning couches.
Then there are the photographs of the couple’s three children: faces and limbs shifting in a time-lapse, as toddlers became teens, college graduates and, eventually, spouses and parents themselves.
A decorative sign at the top perfectly captions the display:
“All because two people fell in love.”
Valentine’s Day, with its flowers and chocolate, cannot begin to honor the beauty and sweetness of my friends’ marriage, a union that has been severely tested at times by poverty, illness and even a prison term.
In fact, based on its murky history, the holiday is actually a rather strange mix, a confection whipped up from a lurid Roman fertility observance and the memory of one or possibly two martyrs (stricken from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 for lack of reliable information), and thoroughly glazed in a syrup of passion and commercialism.
The real romantic instead finds inspiration in the first Lover, the Triune God. Before my friends were drawn to each other, or had themselves been born, the Lord had fallen in love with them.
St. Catherine of Siena marveled at a heart so mighty and mysterious: “”What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good” (Dialogue 4, 13 “On Divine Providence”).
Those whom society deems unworthy of love can take heart, for “he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved” (Eph 1:4-6).
St. Valentine may have lost his place in the liturgical year, but those who are willing to listen to the gentle whisper of the Master he served will find themselves “rooted and grounded in love,” with “strength to comprehend … what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of “the love of Christ” — a love that “surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:17,18,19), a love that opened its arms on the cross to welcome all into its embrace.
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