AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE: World Marriage Day Celebrates Love That’s For Keeps

“In spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

–Alfred Lord Tennyson, from the poem “Locksley Hall”

 This is a big week for the Hallmark Corporation, the florist, and your local fine dining establishment.  That’s because like Pepé Le Pew, Warner Brothers’ amorous skunk that strolls around Paris in the springtime, we’ve got our minds on *L*O*V*E*. 

On February 14, Americans will remember their sweethearts with candy and roses and cards, collectively spending more than $17 million as a sign of their fidelity.  Valentine’s Day has become Big Business in the United States.  Shrewd marketing transformed the day from a pure celebration of courtship and love, to what it is today:  a multimillion dollar business, a day on which—according to the National Retail Federation—men spend an average of $163 and women spend $85, as evidence of their devotion.

Meanwhile on February 13, World Marriage Day, the Catholic Church calls our attention to the sacramentality of marital love, reminding us that marriage is between a man and a woman, is both procreative and unitive, and is an integral part of God’s perfect plan.

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Valentine was a priest, martyred in Rome in about the year 269 A.D.  He is the patron saint of love, young people, engaged couples, and happy marriages. 

Archeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb as well as a church dedicated to Saint Valentine; and his feast was first celebrated on February 14 in the year 496 A.D., at the decree of Pope Gelasius.  According to legend, he was imprisoned for the crime of marrying Christian couples and aiding Christians who were persecuted under the Emperor Claudius II.  He was found guilty, and was beaten with clubs and stoned, then finally beheaded outside Rome’s Flaminian gate.

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The association of St. Valentine’s feastday with romantic love seems to have its origin in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem Parlement of Foules, written in 1382. The poem celebrated the first anniversary of the engagement of the British King Richard II to the lovely Anne of Bohemia, eldest daughter of Roman Emperor Charles IV. 

Chaucer wrote: 

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

["For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."]

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The U.S. Bishops, on their dedicated website, offers helps to couples seeking to strengthen their marriage.  In particular, check out the article by Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator and bestselling author Laurie Puhn, “Be a Great Valentine—Give the Gift of Words.” 

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Father, as we celebrate World Marriage Day, we thank you for your tremendous gift of the sacrament of Matrimony. Help us to witness to its glory by a life of growing intimacy. Teach us the beauty of forgiveness so we may become more and more one in heart, mind and body. Strengthen our dialogue and help us become living signs of your love. Make us grow in love with our church so we may renew the Body of Christ. Make us a sign of unity in the name of Jesus, Our Lord and brother. Amen.