By Harry Keaney
When Cupid fails, there’s always St. Valentine to turn to.
That’s likely to be the thought in the minds of some of the expected 200 people who will attend a special "St. Valentine’s Day Mass for Brokenhearted" on Sunday, Feb. 13, at noon, in Middletown, N.Y.
According to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Mass will include "prayers for healing of disappointments, fears, anxieties and tragedies of the heart."
It is the second such annual Mass, Fr. Richard Champigny, the Carmelite prior and shrine director in Middleton, told the Echo. "We use it for St. Valentine’s Day because he is the saint of the heart and anything to do with the heart and we make this a Mass of healing, healing of any broken hearts," he said.
He said intentions at the Mass would include everything from loved ones whose relationships have broken down to those who have been bereaved by the death of a loved one. But the Carmelites are also asking people to remember lonely children, the abandoned or abused, the aged and infirm, the homeless, broken families, people with AIDS and those with physical and emotional illnesses.
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Indeed, those who are experiencing disappointments in love may place their intention slips at the shrine for a month of prayer.
Intentions may also be sent to the shrine with, the order hopes, a gift to support the Carmelite’s many ministries.
But the shrine is not just offering hope to those disappointed in love; it’s also giving people the opportunity to express their love.
"Look around you and pick out the people you care for the most," urges another Carmelite teacher and priest, Fr. Matthew Temple, in a recent letter to friends of the order. "Perhaps there is a hug, a kind word, some expression of caring that you can share with them."
Accompany Fr. Temple’s letter is an inspirational card that, Temple says, is "a wonderful way to say Happy Valentine’s Day."
Those who send the Carmelites a gift of $15 or more will receive a blessed red crystal cross pendant.
Although Valentine lived in Rome, he has a close connection with Ireland, specifically Whitefriars Street Catholic Church, in Dublin, another Carmelite priory, which is said to hold the saint’s remains.
Glasgow, in Scotland, and Terni, in Italy, make similar claims.
But Fr. Frank O’Gara, parish priest in Whitefriars Street, in Dublin, points to a January 1836 letter from Pope Gregory XVI that accompanied a wooden box from Rome. The letter said that in recognition of the good work of the Irish Carmelites, the remains of St. Valentine had been exhumed from a Roman cemetery and put into the box "well closed, tied with a red silk ribbon and sealed with our seals."
"None of the other churches have such definite proof," O’Gara maintains. "To be told that the tomb of St. Valentine in our church is somehow inauthentic or incomplete is annoying. Our parishes associations with the saint run very deep and true."
According to Fr. Champigny, Cladius C’sar II ordered Valentine imprisoned because he oversaw the marriages of Roman soldiers in violation of the Roman Empire’s edict that its soldiers remain single on the grounds that it made them better fighters. Valentine was sentenced to death in AD 296 by a judge named Asterius.
The future saint had cured Asterius’s daughter of blindness and wrote her a final letter the night before he was beheaded, inspiring today’s romantic missives by singing it "From your Valentine."
That St. Valentine, now associated with love, was executed by the Romans is ironic in itself. The Romans ancient god of love was, of course, none other than Cupid, so often portrayed on St. Valentine’s Day cards and merchandise
One can only suspect that, like in love itself, the arrows often flew both ways even in Roman times.