This post last updated on January 22nd, 2022
Saint Valentine lived out his faith by standing firm in the shadow of the cross, setting an example of unconditional, steadfast love.
Saint Valentine’s Day is a time when chocolates will be bought by the truckload. And don’t forget about roses, jewelry, balloons, and of course enormous cards and huge teddy bears.
Social media runs wild over the days leading up to Valentines Day. You know you’ll be inundated with posts gone viral of who’s made the biggest expression of love, and of the joy brought on by some of these unexpected gifts.
I know, the intent is to make the most of an opportunity to display love and affection for someone. Sadly though, so much of today’s holiday is all about expectations set by society to showcase one’s love. And often there’s the “one-upping” everyone else thrown in there, too.
In modern times, Saint Valentine’s Day has become a mainstay of consumerism and marketing, but also of the painful acknowledgement of those who call it “single awareness day.”
So where did all of this romance and over-the-top consumption of impressing others come from?
Not much is known about the man we know as Saint Valentine that can be verified by historical records. We have countless churches and cathedrals named after him, and of course a major holiday. We know that retailers, chocolatiers, florists and jewelers love him.
But not in the same way Valentine showed his love.
We do know that Valentine has been associated with a chivalrous and noble type of love since somewhere between the 11th and 13th centuries. There are records of a martyred bishop named Valentinius.
It’s this person that we recognize when we celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day.
Valentinius was a bishop and a physician during a time in the Roman Empire, when under Emperor Claudius II, the church faced heavy persecution. Claudius likely practiced Roman Paganism and was said to have consulted the ancient Sibylline Books before waging battles.
We do know that in the Roman Empire under Claudius II where marriage is concerned, polygamy and divorce were widely accepted and Christian marriage was punishable by death.
Emperor Claudius, believing soldiers fought better unmarried rather than married, outlawed the institute of marriage in the younger age groups that soldiers would have belonged to.
Contrary to the edicts of the Emperor and the society that he lived in, Valentine was a man who believed in the sacred union of marriage between one man and one woman for life, and these ideas were gaining popularity in his day.
Valentine recognized that people were attracted to what was in their time the counter-cultural ideas of marriage within the church. And Valentinius greatly encouraged it. He went so far as to perform illegal and secret marriage ceremonies for which he was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured.
The Sacrifice of Saint Valentine
One of the legends told about Valentine during the time of his imprisonment was that a Roman official named Asterius, who had a blind daughter, was to judge him for opposing Claudius’ command against the church and marriage.
The story goes that Valentine prayed so fervently that the girl was healed of her blindness and Asterius became a Christian.
The year is uncertain, being somewhere between 269 and 273 A.D., but it was on February 14 on the Roman calendar when Valentine was finally sentenced to a three-tiered execution that included severe beatings, stoning, and finally beheading.
Consider the sacrifice of Saint Valentine over your candlelight dinner: it is said that his final words were to the daughter of Asterius, which he signed, “from your Valentine.”
What Valentine means to me as a priest is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that — even to the point of death.Father Frank O’Gara, Whitefriars Street Church, Dublin, Ireland
What it Means Today
So it is, while people around the world from virtually every nation will celebrate with gushing posts on social media streams that will run viral, countless dollars spent on impressing significant others with expressions of love, and commitments too numerous to name, at the root of our Saint Valentines Day festivities is a man named Valentinius, who, standing for his belief in the sacrament of marriage, paid the ultimate price for what he believed with his life.
And, for the sake of unconditional, Christ-like love, Saint Valentine lived out his own faith by standing firm in the shadow of the cross, setting an example for all of mankind of unconditional, steadfast love.