Saint Valentine of Rome
Feast Day, February 14
Patron Saint: engaged couples, happy marriages and young people
Even though February, is a month when everything is covered in pink and red hearts, with lots of chocolate and has one of the more well known Saints from the Third Century, Saint Valentine of Rome, this is not going to be a sappy saint of the month post. As with many Canonized Saints and outcasts, Saint Valentine, despite healing his jailers blind daughter, was not accepted by mainstream society. On the way to his execution, he left behind a note to her signing it, “Your Valentine”. Soooooo, in a way we practice forgery every time we sign a card to a secret admirer with “Your Valentine” on it. This post is still going to be about love of self and love of our neighbor.
I have a guilty pleasure that a few people I know are aware of, it is superhero movies. I like superheroes, because they do not fit the mold and I certainly do not feel I fit any mold. There is something exciting about watching the journey of a hero unfold within 120ish minutes, often being left with a future of possibilities. On one recent excursion I found myself in the top back seats of a movie theatre, getting settled as the lights dimmed and the flicker of lights from the projection room reached the screen getting our attention. I was sitting down as the aromas of popcorn filled my nostrils, preparing to enter the belly of the whale.(Jonah 1-4)
There are not many people that I hear say their favorite story in the Bible is Jonah and the whale, but that is mine. So often as an outcast, I have felt as though I find myself at the crossroads making the hard decision that is so hard it does not feel like a viable decision. The story of Jonah and the whale is the heroes journey, is the story of Jesus and the disciples and just like Jonah we might miss the compassion of God if we get too comfortable in the whale. As a I have gotten older, I have begun making those tough decisions on which one holds an action of love.
On a brisk first day of February, I was watching the animated heroes journey unfold in Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse. This is the story of someone in our society that is an unlikely hero being a young teenager. More specifically a young black teenager, being the hero. (Spoiler alert) There are more Spider-People and they are also the outcasts in their society, although I cannot verify this for the Spider-Pig. For each of these hero Spider-People they went through a life changing event to awaken to their full potential and they did not awaken to their potential just once. Their hero roles change.
Often times, the ones that super-heroes are trying to keep from destroying the city, are the ones trying to control everyone and doing it all on their own. Instead of listening to someone who has already walked the path, to wade through the unknown to the other side. Maybe we would be having a different conversation if Pontius Pilot would have allowed himself the opportunity to change and accept help. In order to be a super-hero, one first stops trying to figure it out on their own and accept the assistance from others to help in their own way. For example, in the Incredibles Edna makes the suits, seeing her role as vital to the super-hero work that she believes they cannot possibly do without her. In Superman, his adopted Dad a human without super-strength helped him see his potential.
I already mentioned, I feel a strong connection to superheroes, because they are more often than not outcasts in their society. They are a Saint, because much like Ironman who once sold highly destructive weapons, experienced that secret weapon of compassionate love. Still for those of us who are outcasts, the act of love is not something we experience often growing up and maybe even now. We could be from an abusive home, abandoned by people we share a blood line, divorced, arrested or whatever has made outside of what appears to be the mainstream. The act of love that God offers can look different and can be from people we often least expect to walk beside us.
Love becomes a radical act and going against the stream of expectations when we care for someone else and maybe even a stranger. It is that kindred love that we extend to people we care about, reaching beyond our narrow circles. It is returning to the child like caring, we are asked to return to as Christians. The child like compassion we share with someone in need, before we are told that we are not suppose to help those people or we cannot sit with those people because we are different. Jesus did all of that! In reality, that kindred love was probably before we became tainted by the sometimes cruel realities that life can hold, but we have the choice to return to that compassion.
It might feel different if we are called by God or bitten by a mutant spider, but both are a radical act of accepting a path of compassion and are outside of mainstream thinking. There was a repeated line in Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse, where each of them say, “I thought I was the only one”. Just as there are multiple types of Spider-People, there are multiple types of outcasts. Our outcast paths and experiences may be different, but the feeling of being an outcast is the same. No matter where we land on the Super-Hero spectrum or the ways that we are an outcast, there are radical opportunities to embrace the radical inclusion that Jesus offers us.
In order for us to be able to be a part of that radical embrace, we have to be willing to accept a new way of life. As Saint Paul who lived by example, of accepting that new life even changed his name from Saul. (Acts 13:9) Paul experienced that love Jesus was demonstrating, literally saw with new eyes and lived a new way of life. (Ephesians 4:20-24)
Luckily we do not do it alone, We might have some things to work through, but we can choose to put on a new super suit, however that looks for us. The people that are already a part of that love, has already walked along side someone else (Matthew 11:28-30) to be transformed, even if they do not look or act like us. Just like in the Spider-Verse, there was one who was a black-teenage boy, there was a chubby 30 something guy, a pig, a teenage girl, but each having their own special gift to be a super-hero.
The very fact that we are an outcast makes us special, because we know what it feels like on the outside and we know we can tap into that universal thread of love. That very love that God offers us freely, as we are reminded of as we approach the season of Lent and Easter. The thing about that love the superheroes and outcasts tap into is the unconditional stuff, where we are connected to one another.
The unconditional mercy God gives us is free, is a part of the Communion of Saints, a part of the Eucharist and a part of our calling as outcasts. Just as another Spider-Man quote says, “remember what makes you different, is what makes you Spider-Man”. It can also be said, what makes us an outcast makes it possible to return to that same child like compassion that Jesus asks us to return to, to accept God’s love. We have the opportunity to be a saint, of someone once broken and now made whole, even if we do not get the official Canonized status. If we are able to not be too comfortable with our pain, we can allow ourselves to be made whole. To accept a new way of life.
Now found on Sound Cloud https://soundcloud.com/riley-chattin/feb-2019-sotm
*the photos of the superheroes were taken from the Internet. I do not claim them as my own.