The truth of human love. A different way to celebrate Valentine's Day

Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia 208: "All pastoral actions aimed at helping married couples [...] are an invaluable help. To give a simple example, I recall Valentine's Day, which in some countries is better exploited by merchants than by the creativity of pastors.".

Juan Miguel Prim Goicoechea-March 3, 2020-Reading time: 5 minutes
The bishop blesses the couples.

Since 2013 the diocese of Alcalá de Henares has been celebrating - on the initiative of our bishop, Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla - a prayer vigil in the magisterial cathedral of the Santos Niños Justo y Pastor around St. Valentine's Day.

Let us remember that St. Valentine, bishop and martyr, protector of lovers all over the world, was born in Terni (Italy) in 175 A.D., being the patron saint of this city. The presbyter Valentine dedicated his entire life to the Christian community that had formed in the city, a hundred kilometers from Rome, where persecution against the followers of Jesus was raging. The echo of the miracles performed by the saint reached Rome and soon spread throughout the Empire. Pope St. Felician consecrated him as the first bishop of the city of Terni, where his mortal remains are still preserved today. St. Valentine was imprisoned and flogged on the via Flaminia, far from the city. He was martyred on February 14, 273 AD.

His name will always be linked to human love because of an episode that at the time was very clamorous: tradition has it that St. Valentine was the first priest to celebrate the union between a pagan legionary and a young Christian woman. Subsequently, many people asked for his blessing. This fact is still remembered today in the feast of the promise, celebrated in the Basilica that bears his name in Terni.

Marital life needs

In the Letter Reig Pla addressed to all the faithful in 2013 calling for the celebration of the first Vigil of St. Valentine we read: "We all seek to love and to be loved; but for this we need a teacher. We need to return to Jesus Christ, the divine Master, in order to learn to love and to have the strength to love, each one according to his or her own needs.ún its own state and condition. The EspíIt is the Holy Spirit, who is Love, who opens our hearts to receive the gift of authentic love.éntical. In this regard it is necessary to remind everyone, and especially the young, of at least three truths without which married life is doomed to failure. 

First: the substantial body-spirit unity. We are not only body or only spirit. We are an incarnated spirit; the body is not a prosthesis of the person, it is the sacrament of the person, its visibilization. Second: sexual difference is not an accident, it is constitutive of the person. We are person-male or person-female by God's will, and from that difference we are called to love. Our body, every aspect of our anatomy, has a nuptial dimension, it is created for the gift, to love, and in the context of marriage it becomes the language of love in the conjugal embrace open to the possibility of the gift of a new life. Third: as a consequence of original sin, we are all victims of concupiscence, that is, of an inclination to evil that remains in human beings even after baptism; for this reason, the redemption of the heart is necessary, the grace of Jesus Christ that enables us to love and forgive.".

Joy and difficulties

The Vigil of St. Valentine calls in a special way engaged couples, engaged couples and spouses, especially those celebrating their silver or golden wedding anniversary. But it also takes into account the experience of suffering of married couples in difficulty and of those who have experienced the pain of separation or divorce. 

In addition, single, widowed and consecrated persons, as well as mothers who are gestating a new life in their wombs, unite in thanksgiving for the vocation to love, in which they also participate in their own state of life.

The Vigil, which takes place in an atmosphere of attentive listening, prayer and praise, interspersed with beautiful songs, begins with the Bishop's greeting and the recitation of some mysteries of the Holy Rosary, which illuminate the adventure of spousal love. After the recitation of each mystery, a brief text from the Magisterium is proclaimed, usually by Pope St. John Paul II, the great singer of human love, and a testimony is heard. The freedom with which some people who have experienced difficulties in their affective and married life speak before all those present, recounting painful but also joyful events, is a clear sign of the victory of Christ, who, by healing hearts, brings about the rebirth of the primordial vocation to love. 

Many of the people who have given testimony in these years have expressed their gratitude for the maternal accompaniment of the Church and its pastors, as well as the Family Orientation Center of the diocese and various lay ecclesial movements and experiences, in which they have found welcome and companionship, thus being able to make a journey of healing with the help of God's grace.

To be blessed and to know each other

After each of the moving testimonies, we all prayed on our knees the Our Father and the Hail Mary corresponding to the mystery of the Holy Rosary, giving thanks and praying for those most in need of divine mercy. 

Our bishop then addresses a few words, full of realism and hope, inviting us to walk with the Church on the path of love, virginal and spousal, knowing that what is impossible for man left to his own strength is possible for God. It is at this moment that the Bishop pronounces prayers of blessing on the bride and groom, the engaged and the bride and groom, as well as on the expectant mothers. 

In the last part of the Vigil, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed before which we prostrate ourselves in adoration and grateful silence for a few minutes before receiving the blessing.

The celebration concludes with a precious gesture linked to our Patroness, the Virgin of Val. All those who wish to do so come to the foot of the altar, alone or with their families, to kneel and be covered with the Virgin's mantle, while the Bishop blesses and encourages them. At the end of the Vigil we shared a hot chocolate with sweets, prepared by the Caritas people and some volunteers. n

Testimony of Cristina and Jesús

During this year and a half of marriage we have seen how our love is growing and getting stronger every day. We see how important it is to live it in community, to open our home and to give ourselves to others. We know how necessary it is to pray and to put God in the midst of our marriage. 

The Grace that God poured out in our sacrament has been uniting us more and more day by day, and we have received the gift of giving birth to a new life. We are parents and are awaiting the birth of our first child, which fills us with great happiness.

Looking back, we can only thank God for everything, because that happiness and fullness that we sensed had to exist, is now a reality in our lives. We ask him to continue to pour out his Grace, without which we are nothing, and to always take away all our fears and selfishness. We are not free from the temptation to keep to ourselves and focus on ourselves, but life is there to be given.

Testimony of Juan and Belén

We too have had economic difficulties, like so many other people, but when God is at the center of our lives, in the heart of our home, happiness does not jump out of the window, the happiness that is Christ is in our home and misery simply does not enter. 

You cannot base a relationship on an ideal state as today's society makes us see it,... tall, handsome, with a good house, a nice car and a lot of money. And when you close the door of your house, you realize that you are alone and empty, because what really fills you, what makes you happy, what helps you to overcome any obstacle, is Christ. Without Him you have nothing, with Him you lack nothing.

The authorJuan Miguel Prim Goicoechea

Episcopal Vicar for culture, evangelization and communication. Diocese of Alcalá de Henares.

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