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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | The depth of the virtue of love

On Valentine’s Day, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski came to Epiphany of Our Lord Parish to speak to the young adult theology pub. Seeing how it was a day associated with love, he spoke on the importance of love and how love is a virtue that fulfills the heart of the law.

When we hear the word, “love,” particularly in the context of Valentine’s Day, what springs to mind is probably red hearts, candy and roses. The kids in school exchange notes. Married couples go out to dinner and drink champagne. This is all well and good. It’s thrilling that a Catholic feast day has become so popular that everyone celebrates it. There’s more to the holiday, though. As the archbishop said, there’s much more depth to the virtue of love.

St. Valentine was a priest who lived in the Roman Empire during the 3rd century. At that time, Emperor Claudius banned new marriages, in part because he wanted to have a larger pool of single young men he could draft into the legions. Valentine recognized the injustice of the emperor’s actions, so he secretly continued witnessing marriages for couples. Eventually, he was caught. For his crime of helping people to marry, he was martyred. Here, friends, is an example of true love.

The world is a confusing place. The Church is regularly attacked for her moral teachings. Bishops and priests are mocked for upholding the Catholic faith and pressured to be quiet. The laity have an even harder time of it, trying to maintain a public witness in your families, at your jobs and with your friends.

Perhaps the most difficult vocation of all right now is to be a parent. How to teach your children right from wrong? How to raise them up so they remain faithful Catholics and live happy lives? How to shelter them from evil but not make them too naive?

One of the comments after the archbishop’s talk came from a young adult who shared a common saying in campus ministry, which is that, if you’re going to speak the truth to someone, they first have to know that you love them.

Before everything else, people need to know we love them. Before we get into what’s right or wrong, they should know that we care. Parents need to let their children know this. Priests need to let their parishioners know. If we are going to challenge each other, if we want to strengthen our faith together and uphold our Catholic heritage, if we desire to have flourishing parishes, we first need to trust and love each other.

Forgotten in all the Valentine’s Day pageantry is the fact that St. Valentine was a martyr. He gave his life to protect love. This is the bleeding red heart of love — total self-sacrifice. This is why the crucifix is the perfect picture of love and why a crucifix is near every Catholic altar.

Here is where we begin. Here is where we end. Here is everything in between.

Father Michael Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.

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