St. Valentine's Day

What do most people think of when they hear the phrase "Valentine's Day"?  For a lot of people, chocolate, hearts, spending time with a girlfriend or boyfriend, watching romantic movies, et cetera.  For Catholics, who remember to use the proper title of Saint Valentine, the phrase might evoke thoughts of the heroic martyr.  Most consider it a strictly secular holiday, too often used for immorality and other sins.

When I think of February 14th, however, memories arise.  A two-day drive, the first look at the little town of Alexandria, the convent walls, a tiny chapel, the brown woolen petticoat and tunic, the double grate, the cheerfulness of a dozen women in matching habits, and a door.

Two years ago, my dear sister Meredith entered the cloistered Carmel of Our Mother of Mercy and St. Joseph.  People often ask me, "What is it like having a sister who is a nun?"  Maybe if I write about it, I will be better able to formulate the answer that I can never come up with on the spur of the moment.

On the Feast of St. Valentine, considered the patron of love, we dressed her before Mass in her wedding garments.  A woolen tunic, a petticoat, a skirt, a belt, and the white veil of a postulant; then we participated in the Holy Sacrifice.

After Mass, she knelt before the priest and received from him a blessing and a lighted candle.  Then she went over to the cloister door, led by the priest and followed by her family.  She was so eager and happy, so excited!  After she gave us all a goodbye hug, she knocked at the door.  Mother Prioress opened it and all the sisters were standing inside, waiting to receive her into their midst with joy and song.  Meredith knelt on the floor and kissed it, then kissed the crucifix which Mother held for her veneration.

The door closed.

I could say that was one of the hardest days of my life.

It was.

But looking back now, two years later, it was in some ways one of the most wonderful days of my life.

My sister, the girl I had grown up with and who, after she came back from college, had become one of my best friends, was married.  And to Whom!  More than that, seeing her and talking to her many times since then, I know how incredibly happy she is.  Next to her joy, it is almost impossible to be sad.  I cannot help but be thinking of that grin on her face, the beautiful glow that I see in every picture of her.  (Can't post any, sorry - against the cloister rules.  But I just wish you could see them!)   You have to smile when you see her face!

Whenever I think about St. Valentine's Day, now, I remember my nun, now Sister Michael Joseph of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  What is it like?  In many ways, it is very hard. Knowing that I can't just call or text her any time I want; remembering that she will not be at home when I go back on break; knowing I won't be able to hug her again; thinking about the fact that she is so far away and how little I am able to see her.

Yet in so many other ways, it is a wonderful grace and a source of joy.  Just think!  How awesome is it to have your sister be a virgin of the Lord?  She is safe and happy and oh, so close to God every minute of the day.  She has a beautiful vocation, one which I cannot help but envy even as I know I can't emulate it.  Sure, it is hard to bear when I think of the negative sides; but once I can balance the 'con' side with the 'pro' side, it is impossible to be sad!

Happy Feast of St. Valentine, a little early!