Here comes St. Valentine’s Day again with all those cute little cupids taking aim with bow and arrow. Their intentions are good enough — they want to pierce our hearts with love.

But because their darts haven’t been dipped in the culture of life, they can leave gaping wounds. (Many of us have the scars to show for it.)

The good news is, Catholics have the ways and means to escape those poison arrows and, while we’re at it, transform Feb. 14 into a truly spiritual celebration of love.

We can start by reading Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, whose very theme is true love.

Then we can move on to explore the very deep waters of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. Some experts schooled in the latter body of work offer Register readers a few practical tips to dive in.

“St. Valentine was a priest who celebrated marriages of young people against the edicts of the Roman emperor,” says Father Roger Landry of St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, Mass., and national theology of the body speaker (catholicpreaching.com). “The greatest way to celebrate his feast day is to pray that, through his intercession, God may make you a good husband or wife and will protect and guide whomever God has chosen to be your spouse. After all, the greatest gift a person can give to a beloved is the gift of God.”

The priest points out that St. Valentine used to seal a young man and young woman in love by helping them to unite themselves to God, who — as Benedict’s encyclical spells out — is love.

“One great way to bring about a deeper union would be for a young man and woman to enter into communion with each other through communion with Christ,” says Father Landry. “This they can do by going to Mass and receiving Jesus worthily in holy Communion.”

People too often turn the focus inward, on their own personal romantic feelings and experiences, says Mary Beth Bonacci, speaker, author and president of Real Love, Inc. (reallove.net). But real love is about putting the other person first — looking out for their dignity, what’s best for them and recognizing the image and likeness of God in them.

“The simple way to transform Valentine’s Day is to make it a day of real love, where we look at not just our romantic partners but at everyone in our lives and take the focus off ourselves and onto the people we love,” adds Bonacci. “We can send a card not just to a husband, wife or boyfriend, but to everyone we love. Tell them in writing what they mean in our lives.”

And don’t forget grandparents and other elderly loved ones, recommends Anastasia Northrup, president of Theology of the Body International Alliance in Cheyenne, Wyo. (theologyofthebody.net). “Elderly people get a lot of joy out of receiving mail,” she says. “It’s a definite way to say, ‘I love you for all that you’ve done for me, and for who you’ve been in my life.’”

“In Love and Responsibility, Pope John Paul II challenged people to raise love above lust so as to recognize the dignity of the person,” Father Landry notes. “True love, he taught, is the capacity to give of oneself unselfishly for the sake of another.

“Men looking for the perfect gift for a special woman on Feb. 14 should look to making a tangible sacrifice,” he says. “This is far more moving to a woman with high standards than a Hallmark card, expensive dinner and a bouquet of roses.”

 “For anyone who might have a sense of emptiness about not having a valentine,” advises Dave Sloan, national speaker on dating, courtship and single life (godofdesire.com), “be sure to spend some special time with the Lord and with his mother in prayer on Valentine’s Day.

“In particular, pray and read over the Song of Solomon,” he adds. “It’s a beautiful song of love between a bride and bridegroom, and also between the Church as bride and Christ as her groom. So it really includes the fulfillment of all our desires for love.” That goes for everyone.

Northrup offers similar advice. “It’s really a great time for single people to focus on the fact that God is the source of all human love,” she says, “and realize only his love will truly fulfill us completely.”

Peter McFadden, founder of the Love and Responsibility Foundation in Cold Spring, N.Y. (catholicculture.com and ny-marriage.com), which works to promote John Paul II’s teachings and work, offers a romantic tip that he saw work wonders one Valentine’s Day when he and his wife, Anna, held a luncheon at their home for the pre-Cana couples they were teaching.

During the event, he explains, Philip Mango, a visiting professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, asked the women to write down five things they admired about their men. Then he asked each to read her list.

“They were wonderful things — how great these guys were,” says McFadden. Yet the men had never heard them before this. The exercise, of course, works just as well in the other direction. 

“What more romantic thing could you do than learn how to love and put those lessons into practice?” continues McFadden. “A tremendously romantic thing to do for Valentine’s Day is to take a marriage-education class together and to learn what it takes to make your man happy and to make your woman happy — and then to do it.”

Father Landry offers a “class” for everyone. “I’d encourage young people looking for the right gift and the perfect evening to ‘put out into the deep’ with Pope John Paul II and obtain a copy of his beautiful play, The Jeweler’s Shop, either in written or video form,” he suggests. “This is a beautiful study of human relationships that puts into action his theology of the body. It will raise the relationship of the couple that reads or views it together to the things that matter most.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from
Trumbull, Connecticut.