My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
February is the month for those in love. The Feast of St. Valentine has become a day that focuses on cards, candy, flowers and even diamond rings. However, the history of St. Valentine’s Day is not founded on material tokens of affection, but rather on St. Valentine, an early martyr of the Church, who gave his life as a witness to the love of Jesus Christ.
According to tradition, Valentine was imprisoned for marrying and ministering to Christians, during a time of persecution. While in confinement, he wrote to those who cared about him, always signing his letters, “Your Valentine.”
However the tradition began, it has become one of the most economically successful days of the year, next to Christmas and Halloween. It is interesting to see how these feasts days of the Church have generated secular interest and economic value, but it is important to remember and reflect on the traditions’ deeper meanings.
St. Valentine’s Day can be a day of recommitment, especially for those who are married and who may have grown apart or even fallen out of love. The Year of Mercy, called by Pope Francis, reminds us that forgiveness is truly part of our daily life. In one of his recent homilies, our Holy Father said, “The capacity to forgive and to seek forgiveness is part of the vocation and mission of the family.” In yet another famous homily, he said so simply, “There are three words we need to learn in the family: ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I am sorry.’” Yes, the ability to recognize our own faults is key to strengthening the bonds of family life.
Long ago, I realized that the only people who can truly hurt us are the people whom we love. And so it happens so frequently in families that people do hurt one another. It’s rarely done on purpose and mostly through negligence. However, the hurts are still there, and they linger unless a concerted effort is made to seek forgiveness.
The Year of Mercy gives us an opportunity to seek the gift of forgiveness so critical to family life. In his homily on the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis said, “In the Year of Mercy, every Christian family can become a privileged place on this pilgrimage for experiencing the joy of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the essence of the love which can understand mistakes and mend them. How miserable we would be if God did not forgive us! Within the family we learn how to forgive, because we are certain that we are understood and supported, whatever the mistakes we make.”
This simple advice of our Holy Father is not easy to implement. It is sound advice, however, and essential to the family’s strength and survival. How can we not remember that children learn the basic lessons of human life through the family? The gift of forgiveness is one that is particularly tied to our experience of family life. It is unfortunate today that we see so many families that are in turmoil, where if only forgiveness would enter their relationships, things could be so much better. It is the children of disintegrated marriages that suffer the most. During a recent visit to one of our Catholic schools, the principal told me that teachers do not assign homework on weekends because of issues surrounding “visitation rights.” Being in a different home with a separate parent on weekends can make homework difficult and sometimes impossible to complete. Can we realize what happens when forgiveness is not at the center of family life?
St. Valentine’s Day is so commercialized and sentimentalized in our culture. A new look at what family love truly means can help us find the courage to “put out into the deep” and mend broken relationships. There are many movements today in our Church that assist families. The Marriage Encounter program (Brooklyn Queens Worldwide Marriage Encounter: www.bq-wwme.org) and the Retrouvaille (the French word meaning rediscovery; www.retrouvaille.org) program for families seeking reconciliation are available in our Diocese. Also, the USCCB has two marriage websites that have a great deal of resources in both English (www.foryourmarriage.org) and Spanish (www.portumatrimonio.org).
In the Year of Mercy, give forgiveness a try. Your family life will be much richer.