FEAST OF ST. VALENTINE: LOVE GOD — LOVE EACH OTHER

by Bishop Demetri (Khoury)

 

Keynote Address Given by His Grace, Bishop Demetri
at the NAC Midwinter Meeting, 1999
February 12, 1999

 

In behalf of my brother in Christ, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip and their Graces Bishops Antoun, Joseph and Basil, I greet and welcome you to this year’s Midwinter NAC meeting. I would like to thank Kathy Abraham for inviting me on your behalf.

It is a great joy for me to be with all of you this weekend, because I know that the work that will be done is important and essential to the vitality of our God-protected Archdiocese.

I cannot even imagine where we would be today without the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, AOCWNA, and Teen SOYO, the Order of Saint Ignatius. This is a rare and special gathering of highly motivated and influential lay leaders and clergy. ……….You are here because of the depth of your faith and willingness to offer yourself to God and His Church. So I urge you: make the most of this time we have together, to share with each other your wisdom, ideas and experience, and to participate positively and productively in the development of plans for the coming year and beyond. … I am looking forward to hearing what you are doing in your organizations, as I visit you in your meetings tomorrow.

Each year, the NAC Midwinter Meeting is scheduled to fall on the weekend nearest the 14th of February, and as we all know, Sunday is "Valentine’s Day", as it is called in our secular culture, or as the church would call it "the Feast of St. Valentine."

I would like to spend a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with the life Saint Valentine?

Who was Saint Valentine?

St. Valentine was a priest near Rome in about the year 270 A.D, a time when the church was enduring great persecution. His ministry was to help the Christians to escape this persecution, and to provide them the sacraments, such as marriage, which was outlawed by the Roman Empire at that time. For his belief and practice, St. Valentine was arrested, and imprisoned for his refusal to deny Our Lord and embrace the Roman gods.

While in prison, St. Valentine continued to minister, even witnessing to those who guarded him. One of the guards was a good man who had adopted a blind girl. He asked St. Valentine if his God could help his daughter. Valentine prayed and the girl was miraculously given her sight, demonstrating the power of the One True God. The guard and his whole family, 46 people in all, believed in Christ and were baptized. The emperor was furious about this, so he had St. Valentine beheaded.

St. Valentine’s knew that he could be arrested for his belief and Christian ministry. He knew that refusal to recognize the Roman gods would result in imprisonment. And he knew that if he continued to witness to Christ in the prison he would make his captors angry, and would probably result in his death. But he continued, because he loved the Lord and his fellow humans. He was willing to risk his life in being an instrument in the healing of the blind girl’s infirmity, and in doing so spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who needed to hear it.

This is briefly who St. Valentine was.

"Be My Valentine." This is a phrase that conjures up a lot of different images associated with the celebration of Valentine's Day. Cards with hearts and little poems on them. Candy and flowers given to someone one we love. Young and old alike expressing their affection for their sweethearts. February 14th, for our culture, means cards, candy and flowers.

Somehow, this feast of the church has been skewed to include snapshots from pagan mythology, such as cupid, with the focus of the day only on romantic love. For most, it is a shock to hear that this is a day to remember and celebrate the life and martyrdom of a Christian Saint.

In the Gospel according to John, we read: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) St. Valentine demonstrated this love when he laid down his life for his friends. This is the kind of love that Valentine's Day is really about.

For Christians, Valentine's Day is a day to celebrate the love of God. That love was shown to us in the life and death of Our Lord and the life and death of martyrs like St. Valentine. This is a love with a depth of commitment that goes deeper than any other love in that it surpasses even the desire to survive. It is the love of a God willing to suffer so that his creatures could know salvation. It is the love of a man willing to risk death so that others can know eternal life.

As you can now see, there is a big difference between our modern Valentine's Day and it's Christian origins. Both are celebrations of love, but they show us the difference between the world's understanding of love and the Christian understanding of love. For the world, love can mean a lot of different things. It can refer to the deep communion experienced by a couple who have been married 50 years. Or "love" may simply refer to sex. More often than not it refers to romantic love, the feeling between a man and a woman. Too often it is nothing more than an over glorified puppy love. … When the world says, "I am in Love," they mean your knees are weak and your throat is dry and you are attracted to someone. … This "love" is often devoid of commitment and depth. … "Love" by the world's definition can be as flimsy and insubstantial as a cheap Valentine's Card.

But the Church's definition of love is quite different. /// For the Christian the ultimate example of that love is Jesus Christ. He is the living example of God's love. He came to this world so that the lost and lonely people of the world could experience the Kingdom of God.

The world's standard for love is a warm gushy feeling. The world's love can be characterized as a flimsy cardboard card, but God's love is best exemplified by the thick bloodstained boards of the cross. God's standard for love is the ultimate act of giving one's life for the one that is loved.

This is a level of love that far surpasses the kind of love the world offers. The world's love is often self-serving and self centered. Its purpose is to serve the lover not the one loved. When it fails to serve the lover then the object of that love is abandoned.

Therefore, the first expression of this higher standard of love is a limitless commitment to God. Too often, we reduce our commitment to God to only those times when it is convenient to us.

You and I can easily say that we love God, but does it show in our commitment to him? Do we say that we will never turn our backs on him because our love is so great, but then fail to do His Will because it does not suit us?

My beloved, We have to show our commitment always, and consistently. We must stand ready to act according to His Divine will in our lives, the ultimate test of our love for Him, demonstrated by our commitment.

There is no doubt that St. Valentine never set aside his commitment - when he faced persecution, when he faced imprisonment, or even when he faced certain death – this great martyr acted firmly in accordance with his commitment to God.

The second and equally important expression of our love for God is found in our commitment to one another. In 1 John we read: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us." (1 John 4:12) We cannot reach out and touch God, but we can reach out to each other, and commit to give of ourselves to our neighbors as Our Lord commanded.

No one can deny that Mother Teresa was a paramount role model for unselfish love and commitment to her fellow man. In her talk at the February 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, she spoke the following words: "I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me."

Think about what she is saying here — to be willing to give until it hurts. Are we capable of this level of love? As we grow closer to Christ, we recognize that He most certainly gave until it hurt — it hurt Him to love us so much.

Consider how this can be applied to our lives and to the work that we do for the Church. … Looking at the world from this perspective can possibly change everything. Instead of looking for our own personal gain, we see only the needs of our family, our neighbor or co-worker. Instead of always wanting to be "first" and "in charge", we see the value in taking the role of the servant. … In other words, we find that we are willing to sacrifice our own interest for those of others because we love them and love God so much. We are willing, as Mother Teresa said, to "give until it hurts."

Beloved in Christ, as you work for the glory of God — in everything that you do — make this the standard of your commitment. Whether it is in how you relate to your families, at your work, in your relationships at your parish, or in the work you do in your organization. Make your love for God and each other the single motivation in how you relate to everyone you come in contact with.

We must always remember that the love that we Christians experience and share is obviously different from what the world knows. We may give flowers, candy and cards just like the world, but those tokens are expressions of a deeper love. They are expressions of love that is measured by the standard of God's love.

In addition to giving gifts, here are a few other ways you can celebrate Valentine’s day this year:

As Christians, this Valentine Day must me a time to re-commit our lives to the Lord: God is love and the source of true love. God loved us enough to die for us and St. Valentine loved God enough to die for God's Truth. What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to commit or recommit our lives to Christ.

This Valentine Day must make us strong enough to Stand up for the truth and proclaim the Gospel of God's love: Sometimes it is dangerous to stand up against injustice, hatred, and prejudice. Sometimes it is difficult to oppose the world's view of things to proclaim the truth of God's Love. But that is what St. Valentine did.

This Valentine Day be a reminder to all of us that we must Die to self for the sake of another: … Many priests ask couples when they are preparing for marriage whether or not they would be willing to lay down their life for the their spouse. I have been told that without exception, these couples have expressed that they would be willing to die for the other. Not once have they failed or even hesitated to say, "Yes!" In a clear-cut case of life or death many would die for the ones they love. But in our day to day lives few are presented with a life or death situation. On the other hand, every day we presented with opportunities to die to self. In other words to sacrifice our wants for the wants of another. Try it this Valentine's Day. Sacrifice what you want for what your loved ones want.

My friends, Our love never completely measures up to the greatness of God's love. But with God's help we can grow in that direction and strive toward that ideal. Our Lord said, "This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you." He also said that he has called and appointed us to bear fruit. That fruit is the love that we, with God's help, share with one another. … Christ's love for us is the example that we should look to in all our relationships. It should define how we love our spouses, our children, our parents and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

"Be my Valentine." We all want to hear that phrase today. It simply means "you are loved." I am here to tell you that you are loved. God loves you and wants you to be his Valentine.

The love that God gives us is not like the world's love. It is not a flimsy cheap imitation. It is the real thing. It is an all-giving love that was and is willing to suffer and die for our deliverance.

Will you be God's Valentine? It is your choice. Let's say yes and return in kind the love that God first gave us. And when we do, let's remember the first Valentine and the way he gave everything, including his life, to the God he loved.

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