Billy Joel likes laughing with the sinners. Me? I’m still deciding whether to join him.
OK, I’ll admit that during grade school, going for brownie points with the good nuns kept me crying with the saints more than laughing with the sinners. And, come Feb. 14, I demonstrated complete loyalty by rejecting every other saint. Why waste time with second-rate saints when St. Valentine himself was purported to have the highest success rate in making the love connection?
Ah, Valentine’s Day. Who could forget decorating those big cardboard boxes with white paper doilies and pink and red hearts? Who could forget slapping that aromatic poster paint all over them? Who could forget searching through that cellophane pack of valentines for the perfect card with the “Will you be mine?” message. Admit it, everyone had one boy or girl we carried the Olympic torch of love for, that secret crush we always smile to ourselves about no matter how many Valentine’s Days ago.
One year, the object of my true puppy affection returned my undisclosed longings. He was the class clown and always in trouble with the principal. Did he care about demonstrating his idea of love? Did he care about what the principal or others thought? No, a 13-year-old Lancelot du Lac, he boldly sashayed right up to my desk on Valentine’s Day and handed over a 5-pound box of chocolates. Like Queen Guinevere I covered my gap-toothed, seventh-grade grin while slowly and demurely lifting the pink satin heart-shaped lid. Whoa, half the chocolates were gone, vertigo set in and my pedestal dismantled! When he told me he only ate the ones with nuts I thought “ew” and quietly removed him from my list of potential suitors.
Then, disillusioned about crushes, I entered high school. That’s when “crying with the saints” stopped being fun and “Laughing With the Sinners 101” went hormonal. That’s also when I noticed how fast the back row in the local movie theater filled up. These Saturday matinee opportunities for laughing with the sinners presented a serious cause for examination of conscience for any girl wearing a school uniform. High school days now seemed a long way from those innocent Valentine’s Day cards. I also realized there must be something unusual about those back seats and everyone singing songs like “Maria” from “West Side Story,” and it wasn’t “Will you be my Valentine?”
While those young, innocent days are safe in my memory, my fascination with St. Valentine continues even today. Recently, I asked a few people I know if St. Valentine continues to hold the record in the Saints Hall of Fame for putting and keeping lovers together. One skeptic on love I’ve known for years burst out laughing when I polled him. “Holds the record? Don’t be ridiculous; he’s not even a real saint.”
What? Not a real saint? That person must be the devil himself, I thought, because St. Valentine is a true, card-carrying saint. There’s proof positive in a little shrine dedicated to him in a Carmelite Church in Dublin. And my further research uncovered some additional interesting tidbits: There are allegedly relics of St. Valentine at the reliquary of Foquemaure in France, as well as in Vienna and also parts of that poor man in Blessed John duns Scotus Church in Glasgow, Scotland. Merciful heaven, now I’m wondering, with so many parts spread all over Europe could there have been more than one St. Valentine? Are my daily prayers leading up to Valentine’s Day even landing in the lap of the right saint?
I kept searching for additional information about this special day and saint. Wikipedia uncovered for me further facts about the delight St. Valentine’s Day holds for love in several Latin American countries where the day is referred to as “el dia de los enamorados” (day of lovers). In beautiful Mexico and welcoming Puerto Rico it is a regular sight to see friends do little acts of appreciation for one another. It’s understandable that many nationalities want to honor him or claim a part of St. Valentine because he’s a symbol of love!
Yet, I admit, even though many countries may be worthy of some piece of him, I really think the first prize for the deepest devotion for saints and relics should go to my Italian friends. Why is that? Well, Wikipedia again provided me with juicy and hidden truths. In Cosmedin, Rome, right there in the Basilica of Santa Maria, you can actually view St. Valentine’s flower-crowned skull. How’s that for a Valentine’s Day heart stopper! Seriously, that information turned my head around even faster than St. Catherine’s thumb being showcased in glass at the Basilica di San Domenico in Siena, Italy.
Now I’m an old Valentine; yet I still send those little kid cards to a few special friends. One lives on the West Coast. The first time she received a card from me she laughed and said it was the first valentine she had received in 40 years, but I know it made her happy.
Maybe in the end that’s what it’s all about – making people happy, making ourselves happy and laughing as much as we can, whether it’s with the sinners or the saints on Valentine’s Day or any other day.