By the Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering
Caritas is the Latin word for Christian love, sometimes further defined as the Christian love for all of humanity. Often people go on to define it as selfless love of others. Still others have used it to mean compassion or charitable feelings. Caritas is how I like to think about St. Valentine’s Day, even if culturally we think about the day more from the perspective of the romantic type of love. Not much is known about St. Valentine, other than he was a martyr. Martyrs are a great reminder of the cost of caritas, of loving humanity more than oneself. While I don’t recommend martyrdom as a lifestyle choice, I do think re-centering Valentine’s Day on caritas is a great idea, especially this year in the midst of the pandemic.
This past year has taught us a great deal about what caritas looks like. Not only have we seen so many examples of it, but we’ve been practicing it each and every time we stay home, order groceries (even though we would rather pick out our own grapes), Zoom with relatives instead of visiting them, and put on our mask correctly while out in the world. Caritas looks like the people – from the factory workers to the store employees – who can’t stay home because they need to keep the stores stocked. It most certainly looks like healthcare workers, but it also looks like clergy, teachers, and civic leaders who sorted out new ways to do things, not only to slow the spread but also to keep those within their care safe, by reminding, educating, and assuring them that caritas can look like a Zoom gathering just as much as it once looked like a room full of people. Right now, at my house, caritas looks a lot like people from all over exchanging valentines with my daughters so that they will experience Valentine’s Day, even without a school party this year, thanks to love from adults.
This February is very different than last year’s. Last year, the first cases were popping up in the United States and lockdowns were beginning. This year, vaccines are making their way through communities. Last year as we headed to church on Ash Wednesday, I remember feeling nervous about what was unfolding. This year, as we stay home for Ash Wednesday, I am feeling hopeful about what is unfolding. Perhaps the bigger change, though, is that I’ve learned to practice caritas in new and deeper ways, which means that my hope is also filled with curiosity and gratitude. We’ve learned so much this past year, and what we are doing going forward should (at least in my opinion) be shaped by what we have learned. And, we need to mindful that while we adults are excitedly receiving our vaccines this year, our children cannot and thus remain vulnerable to a disease that we do not yet fully understand the long-term effects of. Caritas demands that we make sure not to forget them and that we protect them until they too can be vaccinated. It also demands that we consider those that have connected with church and community in new ways this past year because they could now do it from home, from homebound people whose experience of church was limited to a Eucharistic visitor and can now participate in coffee hour to families with small children who can participate in church without the anxiety of disturbing others as their kids make noise in the pews. All of this is to say, before we charge ahead, let us take a moment to give thanks for all the blessings of this time, the lessons that we have learned, the new things we’ve adapted to, and the ways we have shown and experienced caritas – the Christian love of humanity – and may we find ways to practice it more deeply and profoundly going forward. It is easy to simply say we are thankful something is over, but the work we are called to in this moment is to give thanks for the light that shined in the darkness, for the hope found in the midst of struggle, and for all of the ways that God reminded us that we (all of humanity) are to be signs of God’s love in a broken and hurting world. Happy Valentine’s Day and thank you for being a sign of God’s love to me, to your family, and to your community through your own practices of caritas.