Who was this man who inspires the holiday of love? Was he a myth or a legend? Oh, he was real alright – history tells us that.
But Saint Valentine’s life has little to do with “romance” – especially as it is celebrated in western culture today. But it does have to do with “love” – but it’s a love that few human beings have known or expressed as Valentine did. Certainly not a human love but the God-kind of love that would cause someone to, even under the threat of death, to be willing to lay down their life for their faith.
St. Valentine was a Roman priest during the reign of the emperor Claudias who was a persecutor of the church in the late 3rd century. Claudias also had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people (not a value in Roman society). This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died and Romans were always at war with someone.
Rome at this time was evidently a very permissive society where polygamy was common; but the church was encouraging marriage between one man and one woman for life. So this priest, Valentine, was secretly marrying couples who wanted to honor God in their relationship through a Christian marriage ceremony.
For this, Valentine was imprisoned and martyred because he would not deny his faith and suffered a three part execution through beating, stoning, and finally, after refusing to recant his faith in Christ, was decapitated.
Martyrdom such as Valentine experienced was not uncommon during this time. During the 300 years after Jesus resurrection and the formation of the Christian faith, estimates range from 100,000 to 2,000,000 Christians were martyred for their faith. Christianity just did not fit into the Roman culture where it was expected for citizens to worship the emperor, celebrate Roman pagan holidays, and fit in with the Roman lifestyle of immorality.
Severe persecution of Christians began under the reign of Nero in 64 A.D and continued until the Edict of Milan by Constantine in 313 A.D. What is very interesting when studying Church History, during the years of persecution Christianity flourished in numbers and in devotion. You would think people would be fleeing from the group being persecuted! Instead they were attracted to the faith that offered a new life in Christ and eternal life to come.
What happened when persecution stopped and Christianity became the “state religion” in 313? Very sadly, the church became complacent and in many arenas, corrupt. Very interesting indeed!
In Rome today many people make the pilgrimage to a church built to honor the courage and memory of this Christian saint, Valentine. Funny (or maybe not) we don’t hear much about the real life of St. Valentine!
It’s a sobering thought to consider the sacrifice of many martyrs who, for the cause of Christ, have willingly laid down their lives.
Remember what we recently read in Matthew 22:37, 39 – that we are to LOVE God with all our heart, soul, and mind – the greatest commandment; and the second – LOVE our neighbor as ourself.
John 15:13 says, “Greater LOVE has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Where we are reading in Matthew at this time is a demonstration of the ultimate LOVE – Jesus laying down his life for us. I certainly do not consider myself to have been worthy of this kind of LOVE –to be considered a friend of Jesus. I was one who was rebellious towards God and did not deserve His LOVE. But in His mercy, He gave it anyway – the God-kind of LOVE in action offering the ultimate sacrifice for those who were so undeserving.
So, knowing the example of St. Valentine and thousands of other martyrs, it seems some time during this holiday to reflect on how the LOVE of Christ that has been poured out on us would be appropriate; and in addition to showing extra affection and attention to our family and friends, let’s show some love to the unlovely as Jesus did. His love changed people’s lives.
Am I even brave enough to ask the Lord to show me who HE would have me “love” during this holiday season? What if that someone is someone I don’t feel comfortable around? It would be easier to love a stranger than some people I know. (True confession here!) Would St. Valentine do that? Most likely, yes. And it will do me good!
Let me be the first to wish you, Happy SAINT Valentines Day! Spread the word, he was a saint worth remembering.
Thanks for reading!