That delightful holiday, Valentine’s Day, is soon to arrive, and for some of you it may be an enchanting day where you get to spend time with a beloved, or, for those who have no such special friend, I hope it will be a time of remembering Christ’s love for the church. Whatever your feelings may be for Valentine’s Day – dread, joy, or bitterness – I hope you hear me out on the history of Valentine’s Day which, surprisingly, has little to do with romance. In doing this, I hope to remind you what our lives are really all about.
Valentine’s Day was set in our calendars back in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I in honor of three saints named Valentine. All three are honored as martyrs, but it is primarily with Valentine of Rome, who lived around 270 AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius, that I am concerned with. Not much is known about him, and for this reason the Catholic Church has decided to remove the holiday from their religious festivals. However, we may perhaps truth in legends, for every tale has its origins in some fact.
As the story goes, Valentine was a Christian priest during the reign of Claudius who, like most Emperors before him, persecuted the church heavily. Many Christians were thrown into cruel prisons, where they were beaten, tortured, and left in poor conditions. Valentine had had enough, and began saving prisoners covertly. Another tale reports he was performing secret Christian marriages, though this may be an addition to add romance to Valentine’s history. Nonetheless, he was discovered by the Emperor and was immediately jailed for his faith. It is said that Valentine had an interview with Claudius himself, and he was asked what he thought of the Roman gods. I imagine him answering in this fashion:
“The gods of the Romans are indeed no gods, O Emperor, but are sticks and stones made by men’s hands. There is only one true God, the God of all the heavens and the earth and thou shalt be answerable to Him, O Emperor, for thy actions. Yet this God sent His Son to us as a sacrifice that we might be forgiven our misdeeds, and He alone is Lord of all the earth.”
It is also said that Claudius was impressed with Valentine’s speech, yet, angered that he was the one being proselytized and not Valentine, Claudius threw him into prison.
Yet he continued to minister, preaching to the guards in the prison. One guard, a good man, had adopted a blind girl as his daughter, and asked if perhaps God would have mercy on his daughter. Valentine prayed, and soon the blind girl could see. There was great rejoicing and glorification of God, and the guard and his family became Christians. Valentine found great joy, even in the deepest darkness.
Of course Claudius heard what had happened. It seemed this Valentine would not, for any price or penalty, cease speaking of this Jesus. Thus, Valentine was beheaded.
John 15: 13 reads, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Valentine was willing to lay down his life for the cause of Christ, and, like Paul before him, became an “ambassador in bonds” (Eph. 6:20). He knew the immeasurable worth of Christ.
Unfortunately, much of Valentine’s Day is commercialization now; it’s all about chocolate, hearts, roses, and, as a friend of mine put it, “a short, chubby toddler coming at you with a weapon.” Alas, we are too prone to forget the important things and care too much about the trivial.
Valentine’s Day is a holiday about love. Love is not what the world would have us believe it is, though: a mushy feeling you get, like butterflies playing ping pong in your intestines, lightheadedness, and an irresistible force to be obeyed. 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Nothing about feelings here. Love is about sacrifice, and, primarily, selflessness.
True love was expressed for man upon the cross where Jesus died. Romans 5:8 reads, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” There was nothing we could do about our condition: we were entirely without hope, estranged from God with no bridge to get us back. Then Christ came and, offering His own life as the perfect sacrifice, gave Himself for our sins. “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
If you have someone you love this Valentine’s, rejoice in that, inasmuch as it is God given. But whether you do or do not, know that you shall not ever find fulfillment in any love save God’s, for He is the essence of love. Delight in Him, and you shall find a fountain overflowing that shall not run dry. In all things, pray to be more like St. Valentine, who gave his all for the gospel, and that Christ would be exalted in your life or your death, now and forevermore.