Expressions of Charity for Everyone This Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is more than chocolate and roses. Originally, Valentine’s Day celebrated the early Christian martyr. Actually, there is more than one St. Valentine who were martyred. Succeeding centuries added romantic love to the day, starting in roughly the 14th century. The day even makes a cameo in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The history of Valentine’s Day spans many centuries, countries, and customs.
Fast forward to the present day: we celebrate with little cards, chocolate-dipped strawberries, romantic dinners, or for the lonely, perhaps some ice cream and a movie with a side of frustration. While it’s good for couples to take advantage of an opportunity for a date night, the day need not be so commercialized. The heart of romance is authentically-lived charity. There does not have to be an occasion to practice charity, but Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to make extra efforts in this area.
A Note on the Theological Virtue of Charity
Living a Christ-like charity is something demanded of us by Our Lord:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
In that demand, Jesus actually gives us the way to grow more fully in communion with Him and with His Mystical Body. Vatican II described “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen Gentium, #40). Even though charity is given to us as a command, it leads to a full, happy life—because love leads us straight to God (1 John 4:7-21).
Ideas of Acts of Charity
Love by its very nature seeks to pour itself out. For Valentine’s Day, think of acts of charity to be Christ to someone in your life. The range of effort and cost will very depending on the person, but acts of love need not necessarily be a grand gesture or something expensive.
For spouses, I suggest consulting one’s interior list. As a husband, I have a mental list of “my wife loves it when ____.” There is also the inverse list. I’m presuming wives have similar lists as well. Fallen as we are, having those two mental lists and choosing to do the good things are not one in the same. This Valentine’s Day, try picking something from the good list. Does your spouse like a thoughtful, handwritten letter? Or chocolate and roses? An evening out or simple quality time? Or in short, what would deepen the love between you and touch his/her heart?
With family members, keep the personal touch. Instead of a text, make a phone call or arrange to meet in person. Handwritten letters also carry a lot of weight—however digital we have become. Can even the most eloquent email replace the feeling of opening an envelope and reading a handwritten card?
Continuing with the theme of broadening horizons with acts of charity, consider your priests. Dan Burke has a helpful video on fasting for your priest. Perhaps the parish priest likes books, or baked goods, or an invitation to dinner? Along the lines of continuing education, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf recommended offering a pastor a subscription to Scott Hahn and John Bergsma’s “The Word of the Lord” webcast. The two scholars do a deep dive on each week’s Sunday readings (a sample here). One important note: be sure to offer it as enrichment and not as a commentary on the priest’s preaching.
Another way to show charity towards any person in our lives is a spiritual bouquet. This can include just about any spiritual practice: offering of sufferings, holy hours, particular prayers (like the rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet), novenas, or having a Mass said. We may never see the fruits of those efforts while on earth, but what if our prayers and offerings helped turn someone’s heart?
Finally, call to mind some occasions where a stranger’s random act of kindness altered your day. What opportunities are in your day to act charitably to a stranger? Let someone change into your lane while in traffic; pay for the next person in line at the coffee shop; open a door for someone. The list is infinite: opportunities are there if we think outside of ourselves.
In living a holy, Christian life, charity gives us the beginning, the means, and the end. God loves us into existence and provides the means for uniting ourselves to Him through the sacraments. God gives us grace to be able to live a life of charity; our goal is heaven, where our God who Is love will show us the perfection of love. Let us endeavor to live out that Christ-like charity on Valentine’s Day and every day!
“And now as to love... the greater the measure in which it dwells in a man, the better is the man in whom it dwells. For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves. For the man who loves aright no doubt believes and hopes aright; whereas the man who has not love believes in vain, even though his beliefs are true; and hopes in vain, even though the objects of his hope are a real part of true happiness.” – St. Augustine, The Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love, Ch. 117