Friday, February 09, 2007

"February Fun" with the Archbishop

Speaking of the archbishop of Milwaukee....

Every month, Tim Dolan pens "Some Seed Fell on Good Ground," a little note to the ministers (clerical and lay) of his local church. Sure, it's supposed to be kept intra murem -- however, the February edition is too worthwhile to remain the possession of the few.

Here it is in toto:
Dear Friends United in Love and Service of Jesus Christ and His Church:

Our daily newspaper here in Milwaukee last week ran an article about February as the “fun month.” Why? They pointed out Groundhog Day, February 2; Valentine's Day, February 14; and Mardi Gras, February 20. The article elaborated on food, drink, and partying possibilities for each of these days during “fun month.”

Interesting . . . it’s said that we live in a secular culture. That means that we are part of a society which ignores God and faith, or, at best, puts up with religion as long as it’s private and attempts no public influence.

In some ways, there’s no denying that we exist in such a secular market.

Funny enough, though, all three of these “February Fun events” are religious, sacred, and faith-based.

Groundhog Day is on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, forty days after Christmas, when Jesus is proclaimed as the “light of the world.” Thus we bless candles for liturgical use throughout the year, and sometimes refer to the feast as Candlemas Day. It finds meaning in the tug-of-war going on in nature between light and darkness. Which will win? Night or day? Darkness or light? Winter or spring? It’s the same question we ask when the groundhog looks for his shadow. And our faith tells us the answer: the sun, the Son, triumphs. You bet it’s a fun day, not because of the groundhog, but because of Christ, the light of the world.

February 14 is a slam dunk, the Feast of St. Valentine. Plenty of legends to choose from: perhaps this priest in third century Rome had an apostolate of introducing Christian girls to Christian boys; or that he paid ransom to help free young women trapped in prostitution; or that he encouraged the exchange of greetings expressing intentions of pure and chaste love between couples; or that his love for Jesus and His Church was so passionate that people claimed they could see his heart -- who knows? But he’s the saint whose feast day gives rise to the most popular occasions for expressions of love. Once again, a religious feast!

And, finally, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) sometimes called Carnivalé (“farewell, meat!”). Is this a “February Fun Day” with religious significance as well? You bet it is! Mardi Gras is the final day before Lent, those forty days of more intense prayer, penance, and charity in preparation for the great feast of Easter. It’s almost the “last party” before we begin a season of sacrifice and mortification. No Lent, no Mardi Gras.

I’m not so naïve as to believe that the popularity of these three “February Fun Days” shows a conversion from our secularism. Most people are totally unaware that Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, or Mardi Gras are all rooted in a culture of faith and religion.

But maybe we can at least smile at the fact that, while religious feasts might sadly fade, the yearnings that gave rise to them -- the hope that light defeats darkness (Candlemas Day); that love enchants and endures (Valentine’s Day); and that one celebrates in anticipation of spiritual struggle (Mardi Gras) -- are an innate and constitutive part of the human condition.

Happy February!