February 14, 2017

Dear Liberty,

     Every year, on February 14th, men are expected to shower their ladies with candies and flowers.  I, on the other hand, receive such items like an electric screwdriver, new tires on the car, or a jacket.  I have learned to accept the level of romance my dear husband is able to express.  But from his standpoint, who thought up this silly holiday anyway?

     Valentine’s Day has a similar legendary beginning as Saint Nicholas does with Santa Claus and Saint Patrick does with beer.  However, not as much is known about St. Valentine as there is about St. Nick or St. Patrick.  (see Yes, Liberty, There Is A Santa Claus and St. Patrick: Patron Saint Of Beer?)  Also, it is possible there is more than one St. Valentine.

     As with all legends, there is truth in its roots.  There are three leading stories about St. Valentine that may or may not be the same person.  Regardless, they all express the same point, faithfulness to Christ to the point of death.

     As Bishop of Terni, St. Valentine was placed under house arrest by Judge Asterius.  During a meeting between the two, the subjects of faith and religion surfaced, with Valentine defending the authenticity of Jesus.  The judge, thinking he could prove Valentine wrong, suggested a test.  The judge summoned his blind daughter and instructed Valentine to bring back her sight.  He pledged to grant Valentine anything he wanted if he succeeded.  With a simple touch of Valentine’s hands on the girls eyes, her sight returned.

     Asterius was immediately humbled.  As promised, he followed Valentine’s directions.  Asterius cleansed his house of idols by breaking them.  After fasting for three days, Asterius and his entire household of 44 people, including servants, were baptized.  In addition, the new believer released all the incarcerated Christians from his jail.

     At the time, practicing, and especially preaching, Christianity was strictly forbidden.  Violators were imprisoned, or worse, martyred.  St. Valentine continued preaching the Gospel even after the Roman emperor Claudius II assumed power in 268 AD.  

     The known world was plagued with sinful practices such as polygamy and as well as relationships outside of wedlock.  Even so, many new believers desired a Biblical marriage between one man and one woman.  (see We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service) Valentine would secretly marry Christian couples and help those harassed by Claudius.  As these were serious crimes, Valentine was arrested.  He was then sent to Rome for questioning.  

     In a meeting with Claudius, Valentine was able to foster a friendship with the emperor.  That is, until Valentine tried to convert him.  In a rage, the emperor ordered Valentine executed if he did not recant.  Valentine refused to deny Christ, so he was tortured, beaten and beheaded on February 14th.  The actual year is not known.

     It is possible Judge Asterius’ story actually took place while Valentine was in prison in Rome, as there is an almost identical tale of Valentine curing the jailer’s blind daughter there.  Legend tells that Valentine wrote a note to the little girl before his execution.  He signed it simply, “Your Valentine.”  

     As the church started gathering information on martyrs, Valentine was included. He was sainted and given a feast day of February 14th. However, there was not a secular holiday until Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the poem Parliament of Foules (1382).  It included the lines:

     For this was on seynt Volantynys day

     When euery bryd comet there to chese his make.

(“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bride cometh there to choose his mate.”)

     Other poems and literature over the next several centuries, including a nod from Shakespeare in Hamlet, helped push Valentine's Day as a day of love and romance.  By the 1800's, it had evolved into a celebration of flowers, confectionary candies, and notes called "valentines".  

     Regardless of what the holiday means now, just like with Santa Claus, the real story's substance is at its origin.  (see Yes, Liberty, There Is A Santa Claus)  Whether there was one Valentine or several, the testimony of the martyr is the tale we should know.  All versions of Valentine describe a man who professed Christ even in the face of death.  In fact, he proclaimed Christ to the very end.

     Liberty, Satan's whole purpose is to take us away from Christ.  On Valentine's Day, as people talk about the love they have for their spouse or partner, the ultimate valentine was given to the world on a Friday 2000 years ago.  (see What's So Good About Good Friday?)  As Jesus hung on the cross, taking our sins upon himself, he was a love note from God.  Many proclaim their eternal love by claiming, "I would die for you."  Liberty, Jesus did exactly that.  Then he rose again, a victor over death.  As the groom, Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice for his bride, the church, so she could spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  Now that is true love!

     St. Valentine reminds us of how we are supposed to love Christ because of His forgiveness.  Father Frank O'Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, explained it this way. "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."

     So as you and your friends pass around candy, pencils, and goodies along with little Disney themed "valentines", realize there is a story of real love behind them.  It starts with Christ’s love for us and continues with our love for Christ.  Remember to hold fast to the saving grace of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as Valentine did.  And as Jesus says: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matt 22:37-38

     That’s my 2 cents.