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By Deacon Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage & Family Life Coordinator, Diocese of Westminster

There is a world of difference between the term ‘Will you be my Valentine?’ and that of the phrase ‘Will you marry me?’ The first might leave you with a smile on your face, whereas the second demands a response and one hopefully in the affirmative! Pope Francis has spoken of the difference between falling in love and moving beyond that moment of enchantment towards a mature love that will stand the test of time. In a similar way, when writing about the wedding feast at Cana Pope Benedict reminded us that 'falling in love is a good thing' but it also develops and 'something more wonderful awaits'. Using the imagery of wine, Benedict then went on to say 'The first wine is very fine: This is falling in love. But it does not last until the end: A second wine has to come later, it has to ferment and grow, to mature'. 

Do you, like me, rarely get the opportunity to drink a fine vintage? However, when we do, we immediately notice the difference in terms of the complexity and flavour, not to say the price! 

This analogy of fine wine works well for married love. In the vocation of marriage, we have to learn that to grow and deepen the flavour, which requires continual work, and when necessary, occasional rebottling. There are times when the flavour can be sharp, corked and lacking in flavour. Thankfully, if we both ask the master of the vineyard, He is always ready to provide new supplies with more robust flavours! 

There is a significant difference between celebrating a day focused on ‘being in love’ to a lifetime of love. Although St Valentine might prefer that he was remembered differently, I think that, like a good disciple, he would seek to find the best in this celebration of love and, where necessary, use it as a vehicle for more informed teaching. He is the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages, which realigns our understanding of this day.

We all want to be loved and for most this will come through the vocation of marriage. Love is something that is essential to our well-being, and through married love we experience the joy of both being nurtured as well as doing the nurturing.  

This contrasts with those reality programmes where love has simply been turned into a commodity and by which the individuals involved experience a state of alienation, the separation and estrangement of human beings from an essential aspect of their nature.  Each participant is estranged not only from love but the gift of themselves. It is certainly not a living example of those words ‘Will you be my Valentine?’

With this thought in mind, my memory brought back to a more gentle understanding of this day. One of my sons, when he was in his last year as chorister, his older sister thought it would be a great wheeze to get the girls at her school to send him valentine cards. The subsequent deluge of cards from his perception was certainly considered a success, even if a little confusing! In truth this was a simple piece of light-hearted fun and nothing more. It was not unlike the bubbles in a glass of fizz that provide a moment of giddiness and well-being, but soon evaporate. It is only when the excitement of first love ends that real love begins. 

Another son, when asked what his plans might be for this day with his girlfriend, adamantly refused to be sucked into it. He clearly articulated that the celebration of love, real love, is not reserved to a single day, but lived out in little ways day after day. This is also why it would be a good thing for our parishes to use this day as a means of inviting those Christian couples who have recently got engaged for a blessing. It is a small mark of their commitment to commence that journey into mature love. This is worth celebrating.

Love does not mean that the other person corresponds to my understanding of love; instead we choose ‘in complete freedom to take responsibility for one’s life as it comes’. That is the great adventure that begins with those words, ‘Will you marry me?’