So I’m in Walgreen’s buying a few details for Valentine’s Day. It’s busy with a line of folks clutching their chocolates, cards and flowers, and I’m dressed in my clericals. When I get to the front of the line the cashier–a woman in her sixties says, “So you’re a priest. What’s all this about Saint Valentine?”
“Do you want the long version or the short version?” I ask.
She laughs and looks at the line behind me. “Probably the short version Father.”
Ah! She calls me “Father”. Everybody does that in Boston, but this is Greenville, South Carolina–the buckle of the Bible Belt. I’m guessing she’s Catholic.
“Well, there was a priest or maybe he was a bishop in the third century. They were persecuting Christians and there was a shortage of soldiers. If you were newly married you were let off military duties. However, the emperor said the Christians couldn’t get married. This meant the young Christian men had to march off to war. So St Valentine disobeyed the emperor’s edict and married them anyway. He gave the young men hearts cut out of parchment to remind them of the vow they had made to God and their bride. So the emperor wasn’t happy and Valentine lost his head over it.”
“He was beheaded, and if you really want to you can go to the church of St Mary Cosmedin in Rome and they have his skull there. It has flowers on it. Very nice for Valentine’s day.”
“Well I’m not too keen on skulls!” she says as she’s adding up my cards and candy. “Are you a Catholic priest?”
“Yes. I’m the pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary Church.”
“I was brought up Catholic.”
“I thought so. What are you now?”
“I can help you with that…”
She laughs, “I’ll bet you can. Do you have that folk music at your church?”
“No ma’am. We leave that for Dolly Parton. She does it so much better. We have traditional music at Mass. You ought to come sometime!”
“Maybe I will.”
“Maybe God is leading you back to the Catholic Church.”
“I don’t know about that!”
“Well I’ll pray for you. Thanks for being so cheerful!”
“You too Father! Happy Valentine’s Day!”
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