Monday, February 10, 2014

HappyValentine's Day

Dear Friends,

Happy Valentine’s Day to each of you and to all the people who make your heart happy. Here are some thoughts about this cultural winter celebration which reveals the Holy One, too.

Valentine was a real person who lived in Rome in the third century. He was a priest and a physician who was beheaded in a religious persecution. The date was February 14. Valentine caught the attention of people in medieval times. Myths grew up around him and the belief was common that birds began to mate on February 14, the date of his martyrdom. This gave rise to the custom of sending Valentines on this day.

In its historical context, Valentine’s Day was meant for lovers: someone would send a Valentine in the hopes of enticing the recipient to think of the sender in a new way. Valentines celebrated a budding love, a faithful love, a new love.

But Valentine’s Day has also become a time when friendship, too, is celebrated. In friendship, when two hearts beat in time, words are superfluous, secrets are kept and comfort given. Friendship arises between people unbidden, sees us through turbulent times and makes us secure.

Friendship is an unlikely thing to find in an inconstant, inconsistent world. The wonder of  friendship is that it is God’s gift to a broken world, a truly “amazing grace” that defies the laws of likelihood and challenges changes that are thought impossible. It is remarkable how friends can create something where there was once nothing. 

The Gospel can be read as a story of great friendship. Jesus did not wish to work alone. At the very beginning, Jesus chose others to walk with him – first Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Later Mary Magdalen joined him as well as Joanna and Susanna. There were others, too. Friendship brought together a most unlikely collection of people – with Jesus at the center. 

Jesus taught them that they could have a new relationship with God. He taught them to love people and to put things in their proper place. Jesus taught them by his example: compassion not pity, inclusion rather than rejection. It was in their daily living with Jesus that they grew to love him and one another. It is only in the daily living with the people of our world that we grow to love others as Jesus did.

Occasionally, we run across a person who is without friendship. Friendship for this person may be judged unnecessary, or dangerous or beyond control. Unpredictable. This person is like a splendid house filled with treasures – a house that is locked against everyone who might want to come in. 

But friendship is available, not just to the perfect, but to every person who is willing to be open to it, work at it and not be afraid of the spills and hurts that are part of working out friendships.

In the warmth of someone’s friendship, we discover our hidden capacities and unsuspected values. Friends are like salt: they bring out the flavor in us. But please – don’t hold a friend too close, lest the fragile bud of friendship be squashed.

Friends like to think they choose each other. Perhaps.  More likely, however, is that friends are given to us as reminders of God’s abiding love.

The columnist Colman McCarthy one Valentine’s Day wrote in The Washington Post: “It’s either an Irish mystic or poet who said that a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and plays back the words when you forget how they go.” All week long, red hearts will appear everywhere we go, reminding us to love and offering some tokens of that love. If you have a few someones in your life who can’t remember the words of their song, sing it for them. It’s better than chocolates. And while you’re at it, sing a new song to the Lord, too.

~Joan Sobala, SSJ