Shrine: Carmelite church, DublinAs Valentine’s Day approaches, Adrian Peelo, OFM, reminds us of the simple ways we can let our hearts expand like God’s to embrace the world.



Shrine: Carmelite church, DublinAs Valentine’s Day approaches, Adrian Peelo, OFM, reminds us of the simple ways we can let our hearts expand like God’s to embrace the world.

On February 14th we will celebrate the feast of St Valentine. According to tradition he was a Roman who became a Christian and suffered martyrdom under the reign of the Emperor Claudius. Legend has it that he was a priest and that he was apprehended by Roman soldiers while marrying young Christian couples, among them military personnel. This union of Christians in marriage, especially if the groom was a soldier, was considered particularly dangerous as it might weaken the resolve of the military to carry out the orders of the Emperor. Valentine was tortured, beheaded and his remains buried along the Via Flaminia near Rome.


St Valentine’s remains were given to the Carmelite friars at Whitefriar Street in Dublin by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836. They rest there in a special shrine at the Carmelite church and on the 14th February each year they are brought solemnly to the high altar for a Mass to which engaged couples and people romantically involved are invited specially; for Valentine, as if you didn’t know, is the patron saint of those in love.



Words that Matter


The memory of this obscure, early Christian martyr lives on in popular folklore and indeed has spawned a thriving and lucrative market in romantic cards and other paraphenalia of an amorous nature. In his honour romantic dinners for two will be consumed and gifts lovingly exchanged. Mysterious admirers will scribble notes on Valentine cards with verses like: “Roses are red, violets are blue, there’s no one on earth as lovely as you.” Many is the heart that will be aflutter with the excitement of knowing that someone out there fancies me. But who could it be?


Writing letters in one’s own hand or even cards for that matter, mysterious or otherwise, seems to be a lost art. When I was a young friar we were told by our Novice Master to always write a letter to the Guardian of a friary if we needed a room for the night. He told us that it was courteous to write a thank you note later for the hospitality received. In Ireland there is the custom of sending Mass cards when someone has died. I remember how touched my mother was by all the cards that arrived after my father’s death, many from people we hadn’t seen in years. They had taken the time to write a few lines of comfort. The words came off the pages like balm and helped our grieving. Much as we may pretend otherwise, who does not love to get a birthday card? All the better if something crisp shimmers out when we open it up! I remembered you, the card implies, despite the cruel jibe about your advancing age, wrinkles that have multiplied since last year, follicle challenge, etc., that often accompany birthday cards. The real message is, of course, that you are not forgotten.


Many years ago, I picked up an elderly friar at the railway station and took him to our friary where he remained overnight. He was returning to Italy following a holiday at home. Some weeks later I received a beautiful letter of thanks, written in an elegant “Victorian style” for my thoughtfulness and kindness which, he said, he appreciated greatly. I was taken aback. It was just a quick run to the station – no big deal, as we say. The kindness of that letter which Fr Alexander, long since dead, took the trouble to write has remained with me – a template for old-fashioned but timeless courtesy.



Gratitude and Appreciation


St Valentine’s Day reminds me of the value of communicating my gratitude and appreciation to the people I hold in my heart. The recipient may have to struggle to read each word as if deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, but they should know that my letter was written with love. I am reminded of my grandmother’s letters to me when I was young and far from home; the ornate and generous capital M’s, the big, round, voluptuous O’s betraying her giving and expansive nature, her warmth and tenderness. I think of my friend Sister Anthony, a contemplative Poor Clare, who uses up every last inch of back and front pages, filling them with news from the monastery, bits of gossip and spiritual gems of wisdom. She even writes upside down and into the corners above the date, almost swamping her JMJF, which I know she always writes first. I am fully present to Anthony in her quiet cell as she writes, and I am honoured to be the recipient of her friendship of the pen.


Some of the most intimate thoughts ever penned have been shared by friends who never actually met in person. To her close friend Agnes of Prague, a world away in her monastery in Bohemia, St Clare of Assisi wrote encouragingly from the seclusion of San Damiano: “Dearly beloved, may you too always rejoice in the Lord. And may neither bitterness nor a cloud of sadness overwhelm you, O dearly beloved lady in Christ, joy of the angels and crown of your Sisters! Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation! So that you may feel what his friends feel as they taste the hidden sweetness which God Himself has reserved from the beginning for those who love Him.” Human friendships can plumb depths of intimacy that connect us with the beauty of God’s unconditional love.


The thoughtfulness of the penA few days before I left a place where I had ministered for several years, I received a hand-written letter on small lined notepaper which read:


Dear Fr Adrian,
I am so sorry that you are leaving us. You
will be missed by all of us who had the
privilege of really knowing you. Thank you
for the unforgettable Healing Service and
Mass on the 1st Sunday of every month. I
so looked forward each month to that
wonderful, spiritual experience. Your own
prayer-life shone through. The gentle way
you guided us all into the Heart of God
was in itself peaceful, calm and tremendously
helpful. Thank you a million times.
May the Lord reward you a hundred times
in every way and deepen your own prayer
to an even closer union with God.
Sincerely with love and prayer,
Mary P.


This lovely, thoughtful letter from someone I hardly knew seemed like the answer to a prayer and renewed my faith. God communicates with us through the writers, poets and letter-writers among us.



All My Love


Imagine that you are standing on a beach along the coast on a summer’s evening at
sunset reading this poem by the American poet Mary Oliver.


Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful


than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon


and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone –
and how it slides again


out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower


streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance –
and have you ever felt for anything


such wild love –
do you think there is anywhere,
in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure
that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you


as you stand there,
empty-handed –
or have you too
turned from this world –


or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?


Poems, cards, letters… stationery, pen, ink… the envelope with your own name inscribed, etched with loving care.


Someone took the trouble to compose those lines, to search for just the right card in contemplative silence along the rows and rows at Easons or Hallmark or at the card rack in the corner shop. Someone thought of you as they began with: “Dear…” – for that brief time you were their whole world. The sheer holiness of a letter that ends: “With all my love…” Writing letters, poems and cards can be a spiritual practice that takes us out of ourselves and into the heart of another. It can be a work of love. The great theologian Karl Rahner wrote: “In love, the gates of my soul spring open, allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom and forget my own petty self. In love, my whole being streams forth out of the rigid confines of narrowness and selfassertion that make me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness.”


As Valentine’s Day approaches, or any day for that matter, write a letter, send a card, pen a poem to someone you love; to an old friend, or someone whose friendship is almost… almost just a memory. Let your words flow in a great stream of love from your sacred heart onto the open page, that it may bring healing, joy, comfort to someone… your granddaughter at college, your nephew in Australia, your husband, your wife, your sister, a stranger… someone in prison, somebody forgotten, lonely, abandoned. Let your heart expand like the heart of God to embrace the world.