Won’t you be my Valentine? I know! Most likely your answer will be “no” because you already have or have had someone who better fits such a role within your life. But, hey, it was worth a shot! The reality is I am spoken for as you already know, but that question was upon my mind when I awoke this morning. Perhaps it is due to the plethora of red, white, and pink balloons, cards, and gifts which have filled local stores since just prior to Christmas. We can hardly enjoy the meaning and message of one holiday without being bombarded by the next opportunity for businesses to “make a buck.” But I digress. Valentine’s Day has come to be associated with the expression of love. Traditionally, it is the love felt between two people who are said to “be in love” or the closeness which exists between friends. When I think back to my childhood days, I remember our elementary classrooms having envelopes on the wall on Valentine’s Day into which my classmates and I could deposit a variety of cards, candies, and various trinkets in celebration of this “day of love.” In all honesty, my heart was not exactly set on love at that point in time, but I did appreciate the candy (obviously) and the kind, colorful notes given to me. Since then, Valentine’s Day has come to take on a different meaning and become much more significant anytime February rolls around.
With time, Valentine’ Day, like so many other special occasions, has developed and become much more commercialized than it ever was intended to be. So, how have we come to celebrate this thing known as “Valentine’s Day.” There are many traditions associated with the origins of this day, but one consensus is that there really was a St. Valentine. While the details of his life are limited, St. Valentine lived in the third century and served either as a priest or bishop to the Christian community within the Roman Empire. While Christianity would not be adopted as the faith of the Empire until the time of Emperor Constantine in 313, there were pockets of Christian communities here and there which endured periods of persecution. It was to such people that Valentine provided most of his ministry.
During a time under house arrest with a Judge Asterius, Valentine sought to engage his superior in a conversation related to religion with a focus upon Jesus Christ. Valentine stated with conviction that he, given the opportunity, could offer validation to the person of Jesus Christ and his significance to humanity. Willing to hear and see Valentine’s presentation of the Gospel, the judge not only expressed openness, but also wished to put Valentine’s faith to the test. The judge’s blind daughter was brought before Valentine and he was commanded to restore the girl’s sight. If Valentine succeeded, then the judge would believe in this Jesus of whom Valentine professed and do anything Valentine wished. If not, then his faith would be proven to be of no use. Placing his hands upon the child’s eyes, Valentine brought restoration to her sight. Judge Asterius amazed and humbled by Valentine’s miraculous act, followed through on his promised to Valentine. He broke all of the idols within his house and following a three-day fast, the judge and his entire household experienced baptism. The judge’s life was forever transformed and he released all of the prisoners under his authority.
At a later time, Valentine was arrested for attempting to convert people within the Empire to the Christian faith. He was taken to Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II under suspicion of marrying couples in order that the husbands might avoid military service during war times as well as for his involvement with helping persecuted Christians. Both of these acts were frowned upon by the Romans as they expressed a lack of loyalty to the pagan identity and patriotism of the Empire. Over the course of time, Valentine formed a friendship with Claudius II which opened an opportunity for him to share the Gospel. Seeing through Valentine’s attempt at conversion, the Roman Emperor became enraged and threatened Valentine with death if he failed to renounce his faith. Valentine refused to turn back on his faith and was martyred on February 14 (the year of which has been debated). Another tradition associated with St. Valentine is that he experienced imprisonment for his unwillingness to offer worship to the idols of the Empire. During the time of his imprisonment, Valentine befriended his jailer’s blind daughter and miraculously restored her sight. On the day of his execution, he is said to have left his friend a note which was signed: “Your Valentine.”
As I stated before, much has happened in the centuries since St. Valentine’s life to create an atmosphere of love on February 14. Far from balloons, cards, and candy, Valentine’s Day originated to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Valentine, a Christian persecuted for refusing to recant his faith in Christ. Our times have changed considerably since the days of the Roman Empire and we do not experience the systematic persecution of former generations. That being said, it can be easy to become lax in our profession of Christ and unaware of what others have endured for the cause of the Christian faith. May we on this Valentine’s Day not only celebrate the love we have through words and gifts, but also in practice. And…not only on this day, but always. As Jesus stated, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down life for his or her friends.”
In Christian Love,
The Rev. Kelley Smart