Moonlight and Roses

The Rose of Sharon
The Rose of Sharon

Today the Catholic Church celebrates SS Cyril and Methodius while the rest of the world, or so it seems, celebrates St Valentine or, more accurately, Valentine’s Day. I seem to have written about this far too much, but I woke up with Donne’s ‘Hail, Bishop Valentine’ running through my head, so I bow to the inevitable. Moonlight and roses you shall have.

Moonlight, first. Reflecting the light of the sun, the moon’s strange, silvery glow has always had a more feminine aspect than its more fiery counterpart, which is usually identified with masculinity and godhead. An old name for the moon is Our Lady’s Lamp. It is a name that expresses beautifully the relationship between Christ and his Church. He has no need, no desire, for any other Bride but us, but it is the whole Church that is his Bride, not any particular part of it, and we reflect, to greater or lesser degree, his love and grace. Whether we are male or female is, in this context, immaterial because the Church is always feminine before God.

And roses? Again it is the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary that comes into view. She is the biblical Rose of Sharon (Song of Songs, 2.1), the purple and white flowers St Bernard identifies with humility (purple) and purity (white), the rosa mystica of which the Litany of Loretto sings and of whom St John Henry Newman writes

Mary is the most beautiful flower ever seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God’s grace that from this barren and desolate earth there ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory; and Mary is the Queen of them all. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers; and therefore, is called the Rose, for the rose is called of all flowers the most beautiful. But, moreover, she is the Mystical or Hidden Rose, for mystical means hidden.

From ‘Meditations and Devotions’ published 1893.

The beauty of the rose, the loveliness of the moon, and both can be applied to us! Today, we celebrate the fact that we are God’s valentine, loved infinitely and tenderly, and we are privileged to reflect back some of that same love with our own love and devotion. Whatever our state in life, whether we be single, married, widowed or consecrated, we can take Mary as a model of loving fidelity and generosity. Obscure and of no account in our own eyes we may be, but to God we are his very heaven.

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On Not Celebrating St Valentine’s Day

St Valentine does not appear in the revised monastic calendar. His place is taken by SS Cyril and Methodius and a series of dull, but worthy, Office readings about the importance of Church Slavonic and unity. Just occasionally, belonging to a global church has its longeurs. While we dutifully ponder the feat of developing an alphabet to cope with the Slav dialects, the rest of the world is eating over-priced chocolates to the accompaniment of sentimental music and the scent of wilting red roses — which, to my way of thinking, is probably worse. But for every joyous couple celebrating their love for one another, there is someone for whom St Valentine’s Day is an awkward reminder that they are no one’s True Love. For them, this is a day (and even more, an evening) to be spent miserably alone, lamenting what they lack. Encouraging talk about being precious to Christ cuts no ice. The lonely are lonely, and there’s no getting away from it.

If there is no getting away from the fact of loneliness, perhaps we can turn it round and embrace it. God never asks what he does not give, but we do not always understand the Giver or the gift. What we see as a lack is sometimes the only way in which we can truly become what we are meant to be. The single vocation is not often recognized for what it is: a unique way of being a disciple, and one that requires more courage than marriage or community life because it is lived alone. Lived stingily, it can turn one in on oneself, making one constantly harp on what one has not; lived generously, it can make one a source of blessing and encouragement to others. Today, let’s pray especially for all the single men and women who enrich the lives of others without claiming anything for themselves.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Of St Valentine’s Day and Being Too Serious

Every year on this day I face a conundrum. The Church invites us to celebrate SS Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Slavs, patrons of Europe and, whisper it softly, just a teeny weeny bit dull (I refer to the liturgy of the day rather than the men themselves). Meanwhile, the rest of the western world is celebrating St Valentine and love in all its forms with masses of pink ribbon, chocolates and wine. For those who don’t have a valentine, who are lonely or feel a bit vulnerable, it can be a difficult day. I think it is made more difficult still by those joyless Christians who are a little too earnest in their condemnation of others’ pleasures. My Catholic soul rises up in revolt when they attack the roses and romance and mutter darkly about love needing to be general rather than particular. It is a great mistake to think we love everyone because we are incapable of loving any individual. We forget what we learned at our mother’s breast, that love is particular before it can be general; and it never ceases to be particular to some degree, for how else will you explain the gift of friendship, for example?

The readiness of some Christians to condemn others is a very unattractive trait, but especially so when it concentrates on minor matters. We may think the world would be a better place if people did not eat meat or drink wine, but to censure those who do is preposterous and ignores the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ did both. I think we have become too serious about little things and not serious enough about big things. St Valentine’s day may have become a bit tacky and tawdry, but at its heart is a very Christian message: that love is better than hatred, joy better than gloom, and we need to get along with one another as well as we can. Can anyone really object to that?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

From Ashes to Roses (and possibly Back Again)

‘The time is out of joint,’ said Hamlet, and we know it. St Valentine in the secular calendar topples SS Cyril and Methodius from their place in the liturgical calendar, and with today’s unconfirmed reports that Oscar Pistorius has accidentally shot dead his girlfriend, the strangeness of this week, which has seen a pope announce his retirement from office, Carnival, and Ash Wednesday, continues.

But is it really so strange? We human beings tend to live life in linear fashion, going from one event to another, forgetting what has gone before unless it was particularly pleasant or unpleasant. Memory and forgetfulness are two sides of the same coin. The past is only as secure as our own or collective memory make it; the future is unknown. We must live in the present, and that surely is what Lent drives home to us. This is the day of salvation, the moment when we must choose good rather than evil; and without being too fanciful, I think we can understand it in terms of a movement from ashes to roses (and possibly back again).

Yesterday we wore ashes as a sign of repentance and the desire for conversion. Today many a rose will be offered as a sign of love and devotion. If our repentance is real, there must be the same rhythm in our own lives, the dynamic of love and forgiveness at work. You may not have anyone to whom you would wish to offer a rose today, but I daresay there is someone to whom you need to say sorry. It may be someone living or someone dead; it is, at any rate, someone you have bound in the chains of unforgiveness and whom you must set free. Saying sorry may be as dust and ashes in your mouth, but it will make something beautiful flower in your heart.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail