Feast of Ss Cyril & Methodius, Patrons of Europe, was celebrated on Friday past. They are mighty figures in the history and literature of our Slav sisters and brothers.
Friday was also the Feast of St Valentine. I got no cards again this year. I never do, but I love to see cards that children send to parents and people in love or hoping to be in love send, usually anonymously. Not everyone will feel the same about St Valentine’s Day and that is only right.
When I lived in Dublin, a church to visit on 14th February was the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street. There the relics of St Valentine are venerated on his Feastday. Two of the five daily Masses that day are in honour of St Valentine and draw big congregations to have engagement rings blessed and to renew Marriage Vows. At two Masses on St Valentine’s Day the Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh preached. I salute the Carmelite community keeping before the eyes of people that God is love and our love for each other is part of His.
On St Valentine’s Day, the symbol of love often takes the form of a heart. At Mass today, God asks us to look at our hearts. Cardiologists and medical science have advanced wonderfully, thanks be to God. But truthfully how is my heart before God? Does it beat in rhythm with His Word? Or does it beat irregularly with His Law? Has my heart become hardened in face of your and others love for me? Does my heart remain unmoved before desperation, children terrified and displaced by war? Do I live the truth in love or am I doing the minimum to fulfil the law and keep my conscience quiet? Your answer is sacred.
One health check on my heart before the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to gaze on the greatest love story every known, the Crucified Christ on the Cross. A next step is to meet this tremendous Lover, Jesus, in Confession. Confession as a Sacrament is primarily me giving Jesus an opportunity to speak His forgiveness directly to my heart. As truthfully as I can, I confess my sins in all their messiness to a Jesus who already knows them better than I do.
What does my examination of conscience looking at the broken heart of Christ reveal to me? Instead of starting with the obvious sins that have broken the 10 Commandments or gone against the Beatitudes, I admit my motives, my intentions, my excuses, my setting moral boundaries that suit me rather than you.
These few thoughts are no more than my ‘ramblings’ about how I try to live a moral life and be honest with myself. It is futile to try to deceive God. After all, He knit us together in our mother’s womb. You cannot know a person much more intimately than that.
Whether St Valentine’s Day does anything for you or not, we are children of a God who says of Himself that He is Love. At times I envy our Ancestors in the faith before Jesus. They observed the Law and could readily say who was righteous and who was not. They could compute their state before God on the model of a balance sheet of good and bad.
But they missed so much through no fault of their own. To love takes the courage to risk. Love can be met with rejection. Your heart can be broken by love going wrong in a way that Law could never do to us. To break the law is followed by punishment and that is usually the end of the matter. But to love, St Paul (1 Cor 13) tells us that love never ends. Faith will be no longer needed when we see God face to face. Hope will no longer be needed when we arrive in the Kingdom. Love will only begin in its deepest and fullest sense when we look on the face of Love for all eternity.
One of the joys of my life has been the number of Saints I have met. Not just St John Paul II or St Teresa of Calcutta, but the ‘ordinary’, ‘small’ Saints with big hearts. These people grow their love from the inside drawing on hearts that love. They give without looking for anything back. They reach out in the face of many previous rejections. They refuse to give up on another person always believing that the roots of love exist in every heart.