|Devotion to Our Lady||
ABOVE: Michelangelo's depiction of Adam. Pope Julius II originally wanted Michelangelo to paint the Twelve Apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but
Michelangelo persuaded the Pope to give him freedom to do what he wanted. The Pope agreed and got a ceiling full of nudity or semi-nudity.
BELOW: Michelangelo's sculpture of David. We have placed 'fig leaves' over parts of the painting and statue for the sake of decency.
“Behold this Heart which has so loved men, that it spared nothing, even to exhausting Itself, in order to give them testimony of Its love. And in return I mostly receive ingratitude, through their irreverence’s, and sacrilege, through the coldness and scorn that they have for me in this Sacrament of Love. What causes Me most sorrow is that there are hearts Consecrated to Me that treat Me thus”.
WHO WAS ST. VALENTINE? HOW MANY VALENTINES WERE THERE?
The history of Valentine’s Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. So, who was St. Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes, in her early martyrologies, at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern day Terni) in Italy, and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city. In William of Malmesbury’s time what was known to the ancients as the Flaminian Gate of Rome and is now the Porta del Popolo, was called the Gate of St. Valentine. The name seems to have been taken from a small church dedicated to the saint which was in the immediate neighborhood. Of both these St. Valentines some sort of Acta (accounts of their lives) are preserved, but they are of relatively late date and are therefore of a lesser historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known.
In 270 A.D., marriage had been outlawed by the emperor of Rome, Claudius II. Claudius issued this decree because he thought that married men made bad soldiers since they were reluctant to be torn away from their families in the case of war. Claudius had also outlawed Christianity in this time period because he wished to be praised as the one supreme god, the Emperor of Rome. Valentine was the bishop of Interamna during this period of oppression. Valentine thought that the decrees of Rome were wrong. He believed that people should be free to love God and to marry. Therefore, Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and invited the young couples of the area to come to him, and continued to perform marriages in secret.
When Valentine’s actions were discovered, he was arrested and brought before the emperor Claudius. The emperor saw that Valentine had conviction and drive that was unsurpassed among his men. Claudius tried and tried to persuade Valentine to leave Christianity, serve the Roman empire and the Roman gods. In exchange, Claudius would pardon him and make him one of his allies. St. Valentine held to his faith and did not renounce Christ. Because of this, the emperor sentenced him to a three-part execution. First, Valentine would be beaten, then stoned, and then finally, decapitated. Valentine died on February 14th, 270 A.D.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. This may have been assistance being given to those who had dared to oppose and ignore the emperor's ban on marriage.
By the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
THE ORIGINS OF VALENTINES DAY
A Time of Corruption of Faith and Morals
It was originally known as St. Valentine’s day and shortened to Valentine’s Day over time, but the sentiment remains the same. It’s a day of celebrating love and affection between one another. The day is named after an early Christian martyr named Valentine and was first associated with romantic love during the High Middle Ages, when courtly love was popular. However, we must add for the sake of those ignorant of history, that by the time the High Middle Ages arrived (which prefaced the period known as the Renaissance) the high ideals of Christian love and friendship were being eroded and were being replaced with a much more banal and sensual love (or should we call it lust) that was increasingly pervading the atmosphere at the time—reflected in part by the not uncommon occurrence of popes, cardinals, bishop and priests fathering children through their mistresses! The one time true and holy ideals of Christian love and friendship have continued to tumble ever since, and we see the results in our present modern-day sensual and sexual revolution, whereby love is more equated and looked upon as bodily love, or lust, rather than the virtue of the soul that it should be.
Renaissance art reflected this preoccupation with the sensual, with increasing nudity replacing the more supernatural art of the Middle Ages. The Vatican itself is filled with the neo-pagan depiction of saints looking like neo-classical gods of mythology. Florence was the seed-bed for much of Renaissance decadence, and from there it spread like a new Black Death plague, and the worldly world of churchmen and nobles were wildly in favor of it all. If ever a time arose when "This people honoureth Me with their lips: but their heart is far from Me" then this was it. The focus on God was rapidly losing ground to a focus on man. Not only a focus on man in general, but a focus also on the body of man, and the body of woman. It is at this time that nudity or quasi-nudity (with a well-placed fig leaf) enters into both Christian sculpture and Christian painting.
Alongside you can see an example of the decadence to which Christian art fell into. The renowned Michelangelo was the artist and sculptor responsible for the nudity on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the statue of the naked King David as a youth. The Pope originally wanted 12 panels showing the Twelve Apostles, but what he got was a gallery of nudity, or as near to nudity as you could possibly go.
This was not an exception, but the norm during the High Renaissance period. A study of art shows a gradual progression to nudity by the 1500's coming from a lowering of standards in art already back in the early 1400's. You could liken it to the so-called "first screen kiss" in the movies over 60 years ago to the pornography that it has evolved into at our present age. The same was happening back then. The lowering of moral standards in art inevitably led to a lowering of moral standards in daily life..
The flourishing of the secular aspects of Valentines Day also coincides with the Protestant Revolution (wrongly called the Protestant Reformation, which actually ended up being more of a "deformation" than a "reformation."
But we do know that, historically, February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient pagan Roman tradition. One of the downfalls of the Renaissance society was their being besotted with the Classical Era, that of the Greeks and the Romans. The problem is that Greeks and the Romans were also pagans, and the Renaissance preoccupation with studying and imitating many aspects of that era, also meant that inadvertently (or at times with full knowledge and deliberation) they took on board some of the pagan and non-Christian customs.
Pagan Roman Custom
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “christianize” celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient pagan Rome, February was the official beginning of Spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling the interiors of the houses with salt and a type of wheat called spelt. Lupercalia, which began at the "ides" of February, February 15th, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of pagan Roman priests, would gather at the 'sacred' cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The pagan priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.
The boys then sliced the goat’s hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goat-hide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides, because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D. The Roman “lottery” system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed.
French and English Popular Customs
The popular customs associated with St. Valentine’s Day may well have had their origin in a conventional beliefs and customs generally held in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on the 14th of February, that is half-way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. Thus the Medieval English poet, Chaucer (1343-1400), in his 700 line poem Parliament of Foules (also known as the "Parliament of Foules", "Parlement of Birddes", "Assembly of Fowls", "Assemble of Foules", or "The Parliament of Birds") we find the first reference to the idea that St. Valentine's Day was a special day for romance.
"For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate."
For this reason the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens. One would like to think that word "lovers" would still be looked upon in a pure and Christian sense at that time, but even Chaucer had dismounted his Christian horse and descended into irreverent, bawdy and amorous writing, which reflects the degenerative
Both the French and English literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contains allusions to the practice. Perhaps the earliest to be found is in the 34th and 35th Ballades of the bilingual poet, John Gower, written in French; but Lydgate and Clauvowe supply other examples. Those who chose each other under these circumstances seem to have been called by each other their Valentines. In the Paston Letters, Dame Elizabeth Brews writes thus about a match she hopes to make for her daughter (we modernize the spelling), addressing the favoured suitor:
"And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine’s Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion."
Shortly after the young lady herself wrote a letter to the same man addressing it “Unto my rightwell beloved Valentine, John Paston Esquire.” The custom of choosing and sending valentines has of late years fallen into relative neglect.
Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February — Valentine’s Day — should be a day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
The Introduction of Gifts and Cards
In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)
Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages (written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400), and the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum. The first commercial Valentine’s Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”
RECOVERING THE LOST TRUE IDEA OF LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
Holy Scripture is full of references with regard to love and friendship; but it meant to be a love devoid of lust or sensuality. God Himself is said to be love (or charity): "Deus caritas est" or "God is charity" (1 John 4:8), but there is no lust or sensuality in God. Love, therefore, can have a good and proper object, or love can have a bad and improper object. The former leads to Heaven; the latter leads to Hell. In fact, at Fatima, Our Lady said that in this modern-age, more souls damn themselves through lust and impurity than through any other kind of sin.
Our Lord Himself alluded to a good and bad kind of love: "No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). The true form of love is to love the spiritual things of Heaven and not the sensual, material things of earth: “Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in Heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
The first object of our love has to be God: “And one of the Pharisees, a doctor of the law, asked Him, tempting him: ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him: “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets’” (Matthew 22:35-40).
Today, the world has reversed these values, and puts the love of neighbor before the love of God. This is wrong and has to be rectified. Jesus says: “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37).
God, Who is pure love, has shown His love for us and He wants us to return that pure love to Him: “For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16). “Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us.” (1 John 4:19).
Yet that love of God also shows itself secondarily, in love of the neighbor. Jesus clearly tells us this: “‘'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God' ... This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'" (Matthew 22:35-40). “As the Father hath loved Me, I also have loved you. Abide in My love” (John 15:9). “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). “My dearest, if God hath so loved us; we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness” (Ephesians 5:2).
Proving Our Love of God and Neighbor
The very first and basic aspect of love is obedience to God and His commandments: “If you love Me, keep My commandments ... He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them; he it is that loveth Me. And he that loveth Me, shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him ... He that loveth Me not, keepeth not My words” (John 14:5; 14:21; 14:24).
Secondly, we love to talk about the things that we love. If we truly love God, then we will frequently talk to Him and we will frequently talk about Him to others and make Him better known among others, so that He can be better loved. “And I have made known Thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me, may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). We cannot love what we do not know. St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, the Little Flower of Liseux, said that Jesus is so little loved because He is so little known. Our Lord Himself complained to St. Margaret Mary about the lack of love shown to Him: “Behold this Heart which has so loved men, that it spared nothing, even to exhausting Itself, in order to give them testimony of Its love. And in return I mostly receive ingratitude, through their irreverence’s, and sacrilege, through the coldness and scorn that they have for me in this Sacrament of Love. What causes Me most sorrow is that there are hearts Consecrated to Me that treat Me thus”.
Our Lord thirsts for love! So too does Our Lady! God wishes to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart. This is what Our Lady herself said at Fatima. How much love is given to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary? Very little indeed. Billions have been spent of Valetine's Day cards and gifts to humans, while superhuman love of Jesus and Mary is largely ignored and rarely returned. We are, for the most part, too caught up in self-interest and self-love to love those whom we should love above all!
The Venerable Father Faber, in his preface to his translation of the True Devotion to Mary of St. Louis de Montfort, writes:
"But what is the remedy that is wanted? What is the remedy indicated by God Himself? If we may rely on the disclosures of the saints, it is an immense increase of devotion to our Blessed Lady; but, remember, nothing short of an immense one. Here in England, Mary is not half enough preached. Devotion to her is low and thin and poor. It is frightened out of its wits by the sneers of heresy. It is always invoking human respect and carnal prudence, wishing to make Mary so little of a Mary that Protestants may feel at ease about her. Its ignorance of theology makes it unsubstantial and unworthy. It is not the prominent characteristic of our religion which it ought to be. It has no faith in itself. Hence it is that Jesus is not loved, that heretics are not converted, that the Church is not exalted; that souls which might be saints wither and dwindle; that the Sacraments are not rightly frequented, or souls enthusiastically evangelized.
"Jesus is obscured because Mary is kept in the background. Thousands of souls perish because Mary is withheld from them. It is the miserable, unworthy shadow which we call our devotion to the Blessed Virgin that is the cause of all these wants and blights, these evils and omissions and declines. Yet, if we are to believe the revelations of the saints, God is pressing for a greater, a wider, a stronger, quite another devotion to His Blessed Mother. I cannot think of a higher work or a broader vocation for anyone than the simple spreading of this peculiar devotion of the Venerable Grignion De Montfort. Let a man but try it for himself, and his surprise at the graces it brings with it, and the transformations it causes in his soul, will soon convince him of its otherwise almost incredible efficacy as a means for the salvation of men, and for the coming of the kingdom of Christ. Oh, if Mary were but known, there would be no coldness to Jesus then! Oh, if Mary were but known, how much more wonderful would be our faith, and how different would our Communions be! Oh, if Mary were but known, how much happier, how much holier, how much less worldly should we be, and how much more should we be living images of our sole Lord and Saviour, her dearest and most blessed Son!"
A Happy St. Valentine's Day to you all, and may St. Valentine obtain for us the grace to love God and neighbor as he clearly loved them. “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Let us beg for the pure love of Heaven and leave aside the sensual love of the world!