One of my favorite holidays (besides Christmas and Easter) is St. Valentine’s Day. As a child, I enjoyed making Valentines for each of my classmates, constructing the special envelope or box to accept cards and reading each card I received. It is no wonder then, that I enjoy the giving and receiving of those treasures today.
Maybe it is because we treat one another a bit nicer when we intentionally sit down to write thoughtful notes, or maybe it is because chocolate is sometimes involved, or moreover, maybe it is about how Christ teaches us to love, not for what we get, but for the joy we give. Our hearts turn away from ourselves, even if just for a minute or two, that makes the world a better place.
Pope Francis released his 2014 Lenten message last week, which illustrates this point: “God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us. (Vatican City, February 4, 2014)
Nowhere more important for us to show this love is in our own homes. The love for our spouse and family is where we begin. Blessed Mother Teresa reminded us that: “Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”
As spouses, on the day of our marriage, we make wonderful promises in front of a myriad of people. We show a PDA (public display of affection), we profess our love openly, and we pray for God’s grace and blessing. In the months and years after that, we may not exhibit those same actions as freely, forgetting the importance of expressing our love and devotion and take it for granted. But it is important to take the time on those special days (and the not-so-special days) to show our love for each other, to grow the love we so easily shared on our wedding day, to rekindle in us the understanding that “I love you because you are you and Christ entrusted you to me.”
In 1994 on the occasion of the International Year of the Family, the U.S. Catholic Bishops released a statement called Follow the Way of Love. In the pastoral message, the bishops reminded married couples to: “renew your commitment regularly, seek enrichment often, and ask for pastoral and professional help when needed.”
Renewing our commitment regularly can be as simple as making intentional time to talk, uninterrupted by the TV, telephone, the children, etc. to share our hopes and dreams with each other. It is in those precious moments to say words of affirmation, express gratitude for each other and to enjoy physical closeness that speaks to the very heart of the beloved.
Seek enrichment often can also be simple. Most marriage counselors and professionals recommend married couples make an annual retreat. Worldwide Marriage Encounter is an excellent experience that assists couples in building better communication techniques, while fostering the profound relationship Christ has called us to in the Sacrament of Marriage. (To find out more, go to wwme.org). Many times retreats or workshops are available through the parish or community.
Ask for pastoral and professional help when needed. Many couples find themselves in situations that are very difficult to work through on their own. This is not a sign of weakness and can take great courage to admit that outside help is necessary. Our diocese is blessed with many good Christian counselors for those times. It can truly assist couples to rebuild their relationship and find their way to a happy and holy marriage. For a trusted counselor in your area, your pastor can be a helpful resource.
God wants us to lead happy, holy lives serving each other, our families and the Church. He rejoices with us in the good times and provides His infinite grace in the difficult days. May we take this opportunity with a little help from St. Valentine, to renew our love for one another and to help get our spouse to heaven.