Valentine’s Day

Need for Saints and Role Models for today’s youth

A few years ago, I was invited to speak to young university students at a valentine’s day party. In that speech, I pointed out that the February 14 feast commemorated two Valentines: the first a beloved Christian priest rounded up in Claudius the Goth’s persecution (269 A.D.) and beheaded outside Rome; the other a bishop of Terni, about 60 miles from Rome, beheaded in another purge a few years later. (Partly because of this confusion, the Valentine commemorations were dropped from the official Church calendar of universally celebrated feasts a few decades ago, although local churches can still choose to observe them.) Legends attribute affectionate letters from prison to both Valentines.
After my speech, a friend of mine who attended the event and who witnessed the speech commended me for a job well done but quickly added, “we’re trying to get people in a romantic mood,” she said, “so you should have left out most of the statistics (sic) about the history. He didn’t think that talking about people being beheaded was very romantic.”
I mention the incident not to complain about people who view things differently from me, but to point out what we are up against when it comes to learning about our ancestors in faith. The lives of the saints are an important part of our Catholic heritage; their stories tell us who we are and how we’re expected to behave. That’s not how it works out, though, if you leave it to chance. Popular culture either ignores saints or debases their memory.
The public schools, where the vast majority of our children are educated, are prohibited by law from teaching about saints, and while a good catholic school program will integrate saints into the curriculum—traditionally during October in preparation for the November 1 Feast of All Saints—classroom work can only go so far. Particularly in CCD classes, time constraints limit the focus mainly on doctrinal basics. Fine-tuning has to be done at home.
That’s not necessarily a handicap. Formal instruction is necessary—the more challenging, the better. Family life is gradually dying off, so children don’t even get the chance to listen and learn about their saints at the dinner table.
Some of us were raised in an era when heaven was organized according to the principles of subsidiarity, with God in charge of the big picture and saints handling the details, which included everything from a happy death to recovery from strep throat. We accumulated holy cards describing saints’ specialities the way our son Daniel collects baseball cards, and along the way, we picked up lots of stories.
The reform of Vatican II did not quite help and the traditional devotion to saints were unconsciously relegated for a while. People are still struggling to figure out what the church is all about especially as roles models appear to be in decline today.
Popular culture either ignores saints or debases their memory. I suggest that children be surrounded by inspiration and information about Saints and Role models. In your decor, include icons, statues, framed pictures and a calendar with saints’ feasts noted.

-Fr. Innocent Abonyi, MSP

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