Valentine. You see this name and what you probably DON’T think of first is the town in Nebraska! Most likely you think of the holiday of “love.” But there is a man worth knowing something about behind this famous name.
Who was this mystery man and why do we spend $19.6 BILLION on cards, candy, flowers and gifts. It occurs to me that we, as human beings, have a deep desire to be loved – to experience loving relationships and to set aside a day to show and receive love is very appealing, fun, and worthwhile in many ways. But I celebrated this day for years and years never knowing that St. Valentine was a real man who made the ultimate sacrifice – giving his life to stand for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
St. Valentine was a third century Roman priest during the reign of the emperor, Claudias, who was a persecutor of the Christian church. One of the ways Claudias persecuted this growing religious sect was to issue an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people (not a value in Roman society).
Rome at this time was very much a pagan society and Christianity was not fitting in well. Rome was also a very permissive society where polygamy was common; but Christians were encouraging marriage between one man and one woman for life. Also, the Romans didn’t think married men made good soldiers to carry out their plans to conquer and control the world.
Despite the emperor’s threats, Valentine continued to secretly marry 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. But when Constantine made Christianity the “state religion,” 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, do we!
It’s a sobering thought to consider the sacrifice of many martyrs, who, for the cause of Christ, even in many parts of the world today, are willingly giving their lives. And it is for love – their love for God.
In Matthew 22:37, 39, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to LOVE God with all our heart, soul, and mind; 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.” And if you need a refresher on what loving people looks like, spend some time today in I Corinthians 13. We can very quickly see, “It’s not about me!”
Jesus Christ was the ultimate demonstration of LOVE – 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 and still can have days being rebellious towards God not deserving of His LOVE. But in His mercy, He gave His life for me – and for you!
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 show extra affection and attention to our family and friends. And even more so letting love be shown to a stranger – the unlovely and forgotten – those we can so easily overlook or don’t like – sometimes for very good reasons. That’s an exercise in laying down our lives.
I send to you, readers, a blessed St. Valentine’s remembrance day! Remember what Jesus did for you was because He loved and valued you – that was St. Valentine’s motive to preach the Gospel regardless of the cost and how he became this hidden inspiration for a multi-million dollar holiday 2,000 years later. Spread the word, he was a saint worth remembering!
Thanks for reading!