Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Memorial of Saint Cyril, monk, and Saint Methodius, bishop

(James 1:12-18; Mark 8:14-21)

Many wonder why St. Valentine’s Day has been displaced on the liturgical calendar by the Memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius. They find it puzzling that the Church would replace a universally popular saint with two of much more limited appeal. The reasons deal with historical veracity and perhaps with a more precise understanding of the love with which St. Valentine is associated.

Although it can be established that St. Valentine died a martyr during the second half of the third century, most of what is said about him is legend. Actually there are fourteen saints with that name from the period, none of whose lives are historically detailed. By comparison the lives of Cyril and Methodius are well chronicled. They were Greek missionaries who facilitated the development of the Church in Ukraine and Moravia six centuries after Valentine.

In the gospel today Jesus’ disciples cannot understand that as long as they have him, they need nothing else. He is the Bread of Life which will sustain us not for just a day but for eternity. Something similar may be said about the love which St. Valentine inspires. Most people reduce the meaning of the term to erotic desire. That is like using a Bible for a doorstop. Love is primarily the giving of self for the good of the other. Here again we have Jesus as the primary example. He showed us how to love by dying on the cross so that we might have access to eternal life. In dying for Christ Valentine exhibited that love but his witness has been undermined. Cyril and Methodius, however, in venturing to faraway places to preach God's love in Christ give more reliable testimony.