The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time–Valentine’s Day

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“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.”

I was originally going to talk about something altogether different today, but Friday night I was at a party and overheard a really tasteless joke.  And, no, I’m not going to repeat it here.  I’ll just say that it involved Tiger Woods, the Pope, and the Blessed Virgin.  The more I thought about the joke the more I thought about today’s gospel.  Most of us don’t spend a lot of time considering that there are people who hate us and exclude us because of our faith.  No, the Klan doesn’t burn crosses on Catholics’ lawns anymore, but go online and search the word “Catholic.”  You’ll be surprised at the amount of hate that’s directed our way.

But, as Jesus tells us today, we should rejoice and leap for joy because our reward will be great in heaven.

Rather than focus on the hate, I’d rather talk about love.  Today  is Valentine’s Day, a day for love.  One of our sons refers to Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark holiday.  You know, a day that exists only for the selling of greeting cards and other stuff.  It’s true that Valentine’s is the second biggest greeting card day of the year behind Christmas, with one billion cards bought just in the United States.  According to the people who know about this stuff, 85% of all Valentine Cards are bought by women.  That surprises me because I know that when I went to the card store last night, there wasn’t a woman in sight.  Just men.  All hovering over on section of Valentine-Wife cards.

It’s also true that the celebration as we know it today is much different than the Valentine’s Day our grandparents celebrated.  The celebration of Saint Valentine’s feast day goes all the way back to Roman times.  The oldest known Valentine’s Day greeting was written in 1415, quite a few years before Hallmark came along.  It’s in the British Library in London.  The first mass produced Valentines in the United States came along in the 1840s.

The man himself, Saint Valentine lived in Rome during the third century.  He was martyred in 270.  We don’t know a whole lot about him but one legend says that Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made the best soldiers, so he outlawed marriage.  Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages in secret.  He paid for it by losing his head.  Thankfully, that doesn’t happen anymore.

Valentine’s Day, either in the middle ages, or today, is all about love.  At least it’s supposed to be.  For now, we’ll forget about the commercial, gift-giving, part of the celebration.  I’m glad the day’s finally here so I don’t have to hear any more commercials for Pajama-grams, or Vermont Teddy Bears, or 1-800-FLOWERS.  I’m just too practical to spend thirty bucks for a dozen flowers that I can buy next weekend for $12.99.

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about today is the sacraments, the signs of God’s love for you and me.   One of the real joys of my vocation is that I get to be involved in some of the most important days in people’s lives through the sacraments.  Yesterday I had the privilege of presiding at a wedding here in the parish.   I wish all of you could stand where I stand during a wedding.  The looks on these kids’ faces is always priceless.  To me, it’s what love looks like.  They’re there in front of the altar of the Lord, kneeling, waiting for me to say the words that make them man and wife.  It’s something they’ve been planning for months, something they’ve been preparing for for their whole lives. It’s a day that God has been planning since He removed Adam’s rib to create Eve.   It’s the most important day of their lives so far.

I always wonder what life has in store for this new family.  I hope and pray that it will all be perfect for them, even though I know that it won’t be.  But I always tell them that anything is possible as long as Jesus is part of their family.

Today after 10:30 mass, I’ll be baptizing two young people.  Every baptism is an act of love and what could be more special than being baptized on Valentine’s Day?  Even more special is the fact that these two kids aren’t infants.  They’re brother and sister.  The girl is 12 and her brother is 8.  I just talked to you about baptism a few weeks ago.  I said that sometimes, not all the time, or even most of the time, but sometimes babies are baptized for the wrong reasons.  But, not in this case.  The kids’ mom is on fire with the faith.  Her enthusiasm is contagious and she wants to share that with her kids.  That, and not a pair of mail-order pajamas, is what love is all about.

Another sacrament that you may not associate with love is the sacrament of the sick.  What many people still think of as “last rites” is actually a strengthening sacrament, a sign of Christ’s love for us and a reminder that He still heals the sick.  Father Gary offers the sacrament to all of us twice a year as part of mass and provides it to any of us when we need it; when we’re in the hospital, or about to go into the hospital.  Most hospitals, Catholic or not, make the Sacrament of the Sick available to their Catholic patients.

Two weeks ago my wife, Jan, received the sacrament from Father, just before she had cancer surgery.  The surgery was successful and the cancer was removed.  I know as sure as I’m standing here that the combination of the anointing and prayers from literally hundreds of family and friends played a big part in the favorable outcome.  Thank you to all of you who offered prayers for Jan, and for me.  Without them, our Valentine’s Day could have been very different.  We love you, too.

Last, but not least is the sacrament that we can all receive every single day, the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends.  Jesus laid down His life for us but left us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist so that we’d never be apart from Him.  If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Let’s go back to the mental pictures that Jeremiah paints for us in the first reading.  Trust in human beings, seek your strength in the flesh, and you’re like a barren bush in the desert.  You stand in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.  It’s an unpleasant picture, but it’s one that we can all appreciate.  Hot and dry.  Not good.

But for the person who trusts in the Lord, you’re like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches its roots to the stream.  You don’t fear when the drought comes, your leaves stay green and you keep bearing fruit.  Even in cold and snowy Saint Louis that’s a peaceful picture and something we all desire.  It’s something we can all achieve.  All we have to do is trust in the Lord.

Have a blessed Valentine’s day.  Guys, I’ll see you later at the mall.

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