Valentine's Day

February 14, 2020

There is an important day in February. No, it’s not Ground Hog Day or Super Bowl Sunday or President's Day. It is the day of Love and Romance…St. Valentine’s Day.  February 14th. Where did this day come from? Was it invented by Hallmark and the Flower Companies. The answer comes from Church History. Traditionally, the Catholic Church history honors a "Saint" for every single day of the year. And some saints have multiple days. But for the layperson, there are only a few that stand out. St. Patrick, St. Christopher for safe travel, St. Joseph is you are trying to sell your house, St. Nicholas at Christmas and of course, St. Valentine.

There are a few early church accounts concerning a saint named Valentine or Valentinus. Myth, history, and the combination of a few different characters probably produce what we know of Valentine. Tradition suggests that Valentine was a clergyman – either a priest or a bishop – in third century Rome. Valentine ministered to other persecuted Christians. At the time, Emperor Claudius II decided unmarried men made better soldiers.  The lack of attachment, as Claudius thought, led to their dedication to Rome alone.  Thus, Claudius forbade young men of military age to marry. This was perhaps a good theory, but in application, no one thought this was a good idea.

Valentine was one who ignored this edict and continued marrying young couples.  He also refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. Being imprisoned for all of these actions, Valentine shared his testimony in prison to all who would listen. One story recounts that through his prayers God healed the jailer's daughter who was suffering from blindness. Valentine was never freed and eventually was martyred on February 14th and his body buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome.  This day, February 14, has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine's Day)since 496 AD. Legend has it that he sent a letter to the young daughter of the jailer who had continued to visit him.  He signed the letter, “Your Valentine.”  

Later on, the reason St. Valentine’s day became so popular was perhaps due to its signaling of the arrival of Spring.  The Roman holiday of Lupercalia was a day of purification and romance marking the beginning of spring.  It is this connection to the season that might be seen as a season of giving flowers.  The first flowers might start peeking out, and therefore became gifts of love.  Many Roman holidays were “Christianized,” so the combination of Valentine and Cupid evolved over time.  The idea of Cupid is over 3000 years old.  The original god of love and romans was the Greek god Eros. At that point, he was pictured as young and handsome. Later, he morphed into the Roman god, Cupid. Nowadays he looks like a baby in a diaper with a bow and arrow.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Valentine cards have always been crucial to Valentines day. They began showing up in the 1700’s. The first Valentine Card discovered that was postmarked in England was in 1806.

And what would Valentine’s day be without chocolate.  Chocolate has always been considered anaphrodisiac. The Aztec King Montezuma used to drink 70 cups of liquid chocolate every day.  During the 1800’s chocolates became a popular Valentine’s gift in Europe.

On Valentine’s Day it seems only appropriate to include in a discussion of love the popular biblical passage of 1 Corinthians chapter 13. This famous “love” chapter is connected to Valentine’s Day in almost the same way that cards, cupid and chocolates are. It is also a traditional reading for Christian weddings. Ironically, Paul does not write this passage with romance in mind. His idea of love is much bigger than that.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This is one of the most famous chapters of the Bible. Again, it is read at many weddings and, every year during this Valentine season. Paul is talking about sharing God’s kind of love through us to others. He wants to show that God’s love is different, better, higher.  While it is primarily a message for the church, it can still speak to couples as well.

God’s love for us, and, consequently, our love for each other is . . .

Patient. Patience towards all people and especially our spouse.  It suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, and infirmities of the other person.  Patience is an art, something that takes time for us to develop.

The God kind of love can be wronged without retaliation.  And show kindness and goodness to those that have wronged them. If the God kind of love finds someone better off, the God kind of love does not envy and is not jealous. The one you are in love with, as wonderful as they may be, will do things wrong. Sometimes, by accident. Sometimes, on purpose.

The God kind of love understands that God is in charge and leads us to the future version of ourselves that each of us becomes.  If we have the God kind of love, we do not look at ourselves in competition with others, but as God would see us and others. We are not unhappy when others succeed, or happy when others fail.

The God kind of love causes us to rejoice when others rejoice, and mourn when others mourn.

The God kind of love is not proud, we cannot have the God kind of love and brag about who we are and what we have done.

The God kind of love knows without God we can do nothing, and bragging can hurt other people’s feelings.

The God kind of love wants anything that is for the good of others and does not demand its own way. A person that has the God kind of love cannot be rude, hateful, vicious or “holier than thou.”

The God kind of love tells us to grow up. When you are a child, you think like a child and act like a child. What you thought love was as a child or a teen is not really the whole story. The younger we are, the more love is about us. Something we long for, something we hope to find. Something we want people to give us. Paul wants to say that as we mature, when we see things clearly, we realize it is something we live out, something we give, something that allows us to reflect what God has done for each of us.

The God kind of love does not enjoy evil, pornography, violence, hurtful jokes at other’s expense, etc.

The God kind of love rejoices in the truth, seeks the truth and demands the truth. The other side of the coin would read, “The ungodly resist the truth”

The God kind of love can bear up under all things and continue to hope and have faith that all will be well. It can endure all ugliness against the bearer of the God kind of love, and always brings victory.

The God kind of love never fails, it is never suspended or falls away.  Everything else will collapse after a while, but the God kind of love never collapses.

Photo by Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash

What does this mean to us?  Jesus, along with many of the apostolic writers, have told us to love others as Jesus loves us.  As many modern writers have asserted, we should treat our spouses along these same lines. But it goes much further than that.  We are to cover all others, not just romantically, with the God kind of love. That means our bosses, our subordinates, our friends, our enemies, our children.  The stranger that cuts us off, the teacher that chooses someone else.  The other person that is hired, promoted, married. Those that love us, help us, hate us and destroy us.  The Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard reflected on the reward of letting this kind of love become personified in us: “When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world — no matter how imperfect — becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.”

So as we read this passage at our weddings or on Valentine’s Day, let us truly try to understand God’s design for love works in the romantic world, but is meant to carry us into the entire world. Valentine knew this love and it is my hope that each of us live it out in our every day lives.

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