St. Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers. It seems a little fuzzy as to precisely why (honey and romantic love have associations as far back as the ancient world); but as usual there is certainly much more to this saint than the modern commemoration of his feast would suggest.
Last summer my nine-year-old daughter started helping my father in his bee-yard. Despite the excessive rainfall in our area, they harvested a bumper crop of honey and ended the season with eleven healthy hives. When I complained about the cost of keeping candles on the table, they realized that the diligent bees had yielded another valuable commodity: wax.
Winter is a perfect time for projects that elude busy husbandmen during the growing season. On this bitterly cold day, my daughter visited her grandparents’ home up the road and together they warmed their wax and poured it into candles. Being a bit of a goof, she made several with silly shapes and tracings; but the fourth she made for me.
It is a simple pillar candle, of the sort I keep in the hurricane lamp on the table and light on Sundays. It is marked with the sign of the Cross on one side, and a note to me on the other. The candle was still warm when I touched it.
Holding that sweet, smooth golden pillar in my hand, my mind leaped ahead to one of my favorite parts of the Easter Vigil: the Exsultet. Can you remember the words?
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.
With Lent approaching, we will take down last year’s palm branches to be burned for Ash Wednesday. I’ll put away the flowers and linens that decorate our Throne for the Sacred Heart. We won’t use candles until Holy Week.
But then, on Holy Saturday, we’ll bake plaited bread with onion-dyed eggs tucked inside. We’ll pack it in a basket with other rare treats, and place this homemade candle in the center of the loaf. Then we’ll carry it to the Vigil to be blessed with the holy water of Easter. The deacon will sing the Exsultet, and we will come home to a feast; and the slowly-melting candle will shed last summer’s light on our home all through Eastertide.
All this rushed through my mind in a moment as I realized that my little girl had crafted this year’s Easter candle (and saved her thrifty mother a good $25 in housekeeping expenses). So many connections, so many seasons and generations each rolling ahead into the next. So much to be thankful for on St. Valentine’s Day.
Our homes are hives of faithful activity. Every day we visit the flowers of God’s goodness, and fashion that life-giving pollen into sweet goods that bring nourishment and light to a broken world. All the flying and buzzing can seem so futile while we are in the midst of it, but when every worker does her jobs we build something great. May your own home be a place of light and love, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.