Feast of St Valentine, 14.02.2022, Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin
It’s a great joy for me to celebrate Mass with you on this the Feast of St. Valentine, honouring the Saint we associate with love. I celebrated this Mass three years ago and I’m delighted to be back once again. So much has happened in the intervening years. We still live alongside a virulent pandemic that stretches us and tests us to the very core.
But if anything has got us through these difficult times it has been ‘love’ – the sacrificial love shown by those serving on the frontline; the familial love shown by friends, family and acquaintances; the fraternal love shown by neighbours and the wider community. While the love we associate with St. Valentine’s Day is of a more romantic theme, it is the same love we celebrate.
On other years I have been over there at the Shrine, for an annual blessing ritual, organised by ACCORD, of an engaged couple to coincide with todays’ feast. That blessing happened last Saturday. Today I notice many quietly visiting the shrine, lighting their candle, leaving their intention. Today I congratulate those celebrating anniversaries, some significant, maybe some less so, but every anniversary carries with it memories of walking up an aisle, making vows, exchanging rings.
Perhaps some of you have travelled a distance for this morning’s Mass and celebration; more are the regular Whitefriar Street congregation – all of you are very welcome. In our reflection on the great commandment of love, that St. John so beautifully speaks of, let’s begin our celebration by acknowledging the moments we haven’t loved as we should have and pray for God’s love and mercy …
Every generation creates its own amusement or trend. We associate the Rubik Cube with the 1970’s. Mention of ‘Trivial Pursuit’ brings us into the 1980’s. Pokémon would find us somewhere in the 1990’s. The iPhone was born in the mid to late 2000’s while the Ice-Bucket Challenge was the big fad of the second decade of the noughties.
Last November Wordle became the latest viral trend. For those who haven’t yet played, it is basically a randomisation algorithm where you have to guess a five letter word every day. And the good thing about Wordle there is only one puzzle to solve every day and if it’s your thing, you can share your results online.
There are two five letter words around a feastday like todays – ‘bride’ and ‘groom’. Those renewing their sacramental marriage vows today, you were once that bride and groom. Many in the church this morning may be missing loved ones who once shared your lives, St. Valentine has a special part in his heart for you.
Returning to Wordle another five letter word is ‘relic’. A relic usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of that saint. They offer us a tangible memorial, something we can cling onto, something we can hold, venerate or be blessed with. The devotion to St. Valentine here in Whitefriar Street goes back 186 years to the time the Carmelite priest Fr. John Francis Spratt brought the sacred relics of St. Valentine. It is thought that the relic of St. Valentine is his heart.
So who was St. Valentine? He was a Roman martyr, a third century priest, who ministered to Christians who were forbidden to marry or practice their faith, under the tyrannical rule of Emperor Claudius II. With Valentine I feel there is a serious piece of work still to be carried out, deciphering the truth from legend in a saint that goes back so many centuries. There is talk of arranging secret marriages, falling in love with his jailors daughter, restoring her power of sight, cutting out the symbol of the heart in parchment to teach persecuted Christians that God loved them.
‘Heart’ is another five letter word! The heart is the soil where love takes root. The Church has through the generations been the great preserver of beauty in its tradition of music, art, liturgy. Beauty is an integral and essential part of our worship, as St. Augustine reminds us beauty is a gift from God. No greater celebration of beauty than the sacrament of marriage where a couple pledge their unconditional love for one another; where a couple impart the sacrament on one another. Pope Francis reminds us in his exhortation Amoris Laetitia that “promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love”. Pope Francis puts it beautifully when he adds “when a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is, as it were, ‘mirrored’ in them; he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love”. Some of you in our congregation this morning are here marking particular anniversaries. God has been mirrored in both of you over your lifetime of marriage and now you are
Traditional gifts are associated with particular wedding anniversaries. Some we are very familiar with such as Silver for the 25th; Ruby for the 40th and Gold for the 50th. Others less so – the 1st anniversary is called ‘Paper’ and the couple might expect the gift of stationary or a book! The 2nd Anniversary is ‘Cotton’; the 5th is ‘Wood’; the 8th is ‘Bronze’ and the 10th is ‘Tin’. This kind of information is only useful in a table quiz or dare I mention Trivial Pursuit!
I am always interested in the diary that rests on St. Valentines altar. There are entries there from all over the world. People looking for love. People looking for acceptance. People looking for permanence. There are millions of songs, poems, novels, movies about love: losing love, finding love, sharing love, missing a loved one, wishing for love, searching for love, being grateful for love. I could go on.
Pope Francis reminds us “love is a single reality but with different dimensions”, ACCORD whom I am privileged to work with, recognises and acknowledges those distinct dimensions. One of our key pastoral challenges is to teach couples about the beauty of Christian marriage and to help them live in harmony together, to overcome their selfishness and to reconcile their differences. The fact that the vast majority of couples who marry in the Church remain faithful to their promises and vows is in itself revolutionary as it shows that couples are not easily subject to the mercy of events or the shifting chemistry of mood. For those who experience challenges in marriage, ACCORD is there to tenderly journey with them.
At the click of a mouse, pornography can be accessed; at the pressing of a button a compromising text can be sent; at the dialling of a premium rate number a date with a stranger can be arranged – but is it love? St. John will remind us: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love”. The heart of Jesus, like the heart of St. Valentine over there is pulsating for all of us. As we hold each other’s hands at the shrine, as we rub the ring on our fingers, as we reflect in silence on what might have been or what is, let us give thanks for the gift of love we all experience this day. One last thought … I always find it intriguing here in Whitefriar Street opposite the Shrine of St. Valentine is that of St. Jude! Perhaps there’s a message in this for all of us. Might it be that love is our neighbour always no matter how hopeless we may feel? May the constancy and commitment of St. Valentine inspire us, and this day may the ring we wear remind us of the commitment we once made. Amen.
 Amoris Laetitia par. 124
 Amoris Laetitia par. 121
 Pope Francis: ‘Love in Marriage’, Magnificat Publications, 2017.
 Jn. 12:24