February 13: Embrace the Kindness of Heart (6 C)

“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” Luke 6: 20-26.

“Rejoice, and leap for joy?” Do you hear much joy in either the prophet Jeremiah or the passage from Luke’s gospel? Both readings sound to me like doom and gloom. Consider Jeremiah prophesied that the Babylonians would conquer the idolatrous Judah and warned the Jews to submit to God.

Unlike Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount,” Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” is shorter, containing four “woes” that are expressed in the second person. Luke intends to draw attention to our human faults — because you are rich and over-fed, you may be laughing to your eternal demise.

I doubt Jeremiah or Luke will be sending out Valentine’s Day cards. Both of them appear too somber and sober to me. They are not partying types.

In contrast, February is a month chock full of parties and festive celebrations, including Chinese New Year, the Presidential holidays, the Olympics, and concluding with over-the-top celebrations in New Orleans for Mardi Gras on Strove Tuesday the day before Ash Wednesday on March 2.

On Superbowl Sunday, a good reason for a celebration, let’s challenge our priorities and examine Saint Valentine, whose feast day is tomorrow, Monday, February 14.

In the case of the third-century bishop and martyr, the historical memory of Saint Valentine is fuzzy. Scholars throw their hands into the air when attempting to distinguish his life with other figures who share the name of Valentine, Valentino, or Valentina. You should know there was both a Saint Valentine of Rome and a Saint Valentine of Terni living in the same period.

Let’s focus on the Valentine buried in a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia in Rome and whose feast on February 14 was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The traditional red color signifies those martyrs who have given their lives for Jesus Christ and the exact color associated with Valentine’s Day.

“Valentine” comes from “Valens,” meaning worthy, firm, or decisive. He must have been valiant since emperor Claudius II had Bishop Valentine beheaded for secretly performing Christian weddings for couples allowing young husbands to escape military conscription into the pagan army.

To remind these men of their marriage vows and God’s love, Valentine cut hearts from parchment, giving them to persecuted Christians. So we have these symbolic hearts and even affectionate letters from Valentine before his execution.

One letter was signed “from your Valentine.” Could this be the very first Valentine greeting and romantic love letter? Here fact and fiction combine for a good story, even in the lives of the saints.

With a clear sign of how certain practices cement-like crazy glue to the culture, ten centuries later, in the era of chivalry, Geoffrey Chaucer makes the first mention of Valentine’s Day in his romantic love poem “The Parliament of Foules.” He writes: “For this was Valentine’s Day when the birds of every kind – come to choose their mates.”

The poet observed birds pairing in mid-February, helping make the association of Valentine’s Day to romance and courtship. Consequently, pubs were booked even on February 14 in 1370 as it was a heavy date night.

Today in Luke’s gospel, we understand that Jesus and his band of followers were in Tyre and Sidon, present-day Lebanon. The Lord encountered so many people in need – those whose pains were healed by his touch and those whose personal burdens were lifted by his encouraging words. All these people were touched by his kindness — women, men, children, but mostly “the poor in spirit.”

His was a ministry of kindness. So much so that if we live the good life, the moral life now, our reward in heaven will be great. But mainly that the poor, the hungry, those excluded and weeping have a preferred place in God’s invisible kingdom of the heart. Woe to us who pass them by or discount their value in our lives.

We, too, have to act on behalf of Jesus’s ministry, especially these days. We must not be distracted no matter how festive the occasion; instead, we must embrace a “ministry of kindness,” something doable.

The gospel reports that at this point, Jesus’s followers understood little of what would unfold in Jesus’s life and their own lives. Nonetheless, his ministry gave voice to their optimism, kindness, and hope.

Saint Valentine’s story may be a legendary ideal, but the very high moral purpose found in Jesus’s teachings reminds us that the good life has a reward.

Take a moment to realize those times, even when our actions fail or intentions sour, that strength can be found in the very kindness of Jesus Christ, and for this, we can genuinely rejoice and leap for joy on that day!

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

“Good timber does not grow with ease — the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.” Here’s an interview with the Olympic-speed skater, and Gold Medal winner Apolo Ohno from the PBS News Hour. He speaks about strength and performance under pressure. Worth watching, Ohno’s interview with Amna Nawaz.

This interview substantially changed the opening for my Sunday homily. To meet the deadline for the Santa Catalina blog that comes out on Sunday morning at 2 AM, I have my homily completed typically on Friday. But then, I consider my words in light of the young student congregation at Santa Catalina. So, I tossed out the sketch of Saint Valentine, and I focused on the quote from Apolo Ohno.

He provided me a chance to mention the Olympics and the Superbowl, with the idea of “performance under pressure. ” Few of us are going to be Olympic speed skaters or quarterbacks, like Joe Burrow or Matthew Stafford, but at times we have to perform. Hopefully, we perform actions of great kindness, my second theme. Here I drew on the example of one of our Junior year students, violinist Elaina Oh whose performance of Caesar Frank’s “Panis Angelicus” touched me at Saturday’s Confirmation Mass at Santa Catalina.

“All art aspires to the condition of music,” Walter Pater tells us, and thus such beauty can be a channel that brings a little more of the divine into our lives. Apolo Ohno reflects his understanding of performance in sports, a way to channel God’s grace in our physical lives. In his forthcoming new book entitled “Hard Pivot, he shares his uncertainty, hardships, struggles, and how at times we must reinvent ourselves, and thus pivot. So “good timber does not grow with ease — the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.” (See Below).


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