Next week we celebrate two feast days of saints who modeled love for the world. Most everyone knows about St. Valentine, whose feast day on Feb. 14 has become synonymous with all things related to love, and especially romantic love.
How that association happened is a long historical story, but it starts with legends about his life. The Catholic Church acknowledges that little is known for certain and that the stories are questionable.
Among these stories are that he secretly married couples so that the husbands could avoid being drafted into the pagan army, or that he cured a blind daughter of the man condemning him for his faith and signed a note “Your Valentine.”
His feast seems to have taken off in the Middle Ages when it coincided with the time when birds were pairing. But none of this matters to the countless people — and merchants — who celebrate his feast in our culture today. We seem to have forgotten that the love that made St. Valentine famous in the first place was his defiant love for Jesus that resulted in his being martyred for his faith.
In the eyes of the world, this isn’t a very romantic happy ending. But the eyes of faith are focused on a greater love.
Less well known is St. Scholastica, whose feast day is Feb. 10, but it is a very important day of celebration for Benedictines, especially Benedictine women. She is the twin sister of the better-known St. Benedict, and the source of one of the most important stories of love in the lives of the two saints.
According to their biographer, St. Gregory, they came from their monasteries each year to visit, a time no doubt of discussing their love for each other and their family and also their mutual love for God.
Towards the end of their lives, Benedict wanted to end the visit so that he could return to his monastery before night fell. His sister begged him to stay and, when he continued to refuse, she bowed her head in prayer. Immediately a great storm stopped him from leaving.
She told him that, since asking him didn’t work, she had asked God. “Now go if you can,” she said, probably with a bit of a sisterly smirk. St. Gregory explains that her will won over Benedict’s because her love was greater and that sometimes love is more powerful than law.
In this time when real love seems to have its challenges, these two feasts may need to be celebrated even more. They speak of the love which favors the oppressed among us.
They speak of the love which draws us closer to others, In a time when war, distrust or outright hatred for those of other religions or ethnicities, distorted depictions of love in the media, and even seemingly a general lack of civility between people, these two saints beg us to focus on the real love of a God who created and sustains us. They invite us to a selfless love, to a way of life that brings true love to a world that needs it badly.
A Beatles song proclaims “All you need is love.” It may not be all that we need; it won’t usually miraculously put food on the table or pay the rent, but the love that we get from our human friends and family can even provide the food and rent when the going gets tough. It might be better to say that all we need is to be rooted in love.
Without love, everything else feels empty and lacking. All we need is love to counter the tragic divisions that threaten us and our world.