Russell’s Monthly Newsletter
I am writing this on Valentine’s Day, conscious that you will be reading this next month, at the beginning of Lent. The two events, separated by a few weeks this year, are very much related to one another, because they both celebrate love: God’s love for us, and romantic love. We can learn a lot about God’s love by studying the ways of human lovers; and about how generous human love should be by looking at how God loves you and me.
There were two saints called Valentine. In the second century AD Bishop Valentine of Terni, in Italy, was martyred for his faith. And in the third century, a priest in Rome called Valentine was arrested for trying to help other Christians. While in prison he tried unsuccessfully to convert the Emperor Claudius II to Christianity, and healed his jailer’s daughter of her blindness. Then he was beheaded outside Rome’s Flaminian Gate. Nobody is quite clear how Valentine became the patron saint of lovers. Some say it was because there was a pagan festival at this time of year called Lupercalia. Young men and women used to draw names out of a hat and pair up for the period of the festival. Another suggestion is that it is due to the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote: “This was on St Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”
Romantic love is one of God’s greatest gifts to the human race. I think it is no accident that the Romantic Movement with its emphasis on romantic poetry, art and music, arose in a Christian continent at a time when Christian influence was strong. It is moving, then, to compare God’s passionate love for you and me with the devoted love between two human lovers. God woos us to respond to God’s love. If we fail to do so and ignore him, God is wounded just as much as a lover who finds their overtures are not returned. Jesus on the cross shows us that God’s love for us is marked by willing self-sacrifice, just as human love should be. But the agonies of the cross also reveal how deeply God suffers when we ignore God, and fail to return God’s generous love. When we realize that, we suffer from guilt, thinking how deeply our selfish love has wounded the most passionate of all lovers. But God does not want our lives to be wrecked by an endless burden of guilt, so he sent Jesus to assure us of the possibility of forgiveness and renewal. Of course, God forgives us, for God wants to be reconciled to those who have rejected him. But God’s love, too, can be misused. If we say that we are sorry, without really meaning it, and then go out and do the same wrong things again because it is so easy to be forgiven, we are taking advantage of God’s indulgence. So we need Lent. Lent can be for us a time when we reassess our love for God and for others in the light of God’s love for us revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
May you have a blessed, love-filled Lent.
With love and prayers, Russell.