What can St. Valentine teach us about love?

By Elise Tremblay | Special To The Compass | February 21, 2019

It is fair to say that February has a very large red heart over it that basically overshadows the entire month. Even though St. Valentine’s Day is in the middle of the month, the stores are packed with numerous heart-shaped goods and red items from typically the day after Christmas until St. Valentine’s Day. Even after Feb. 14, most of these goods go on sale, and you can stock up on all of your sweet Valentine’s Day necessities for the coming year.

I recently had the privilege of working on one of the great Compass in the Classroom worksheets that is put out for teachers to use, and in this issue I was asked to contribute about the life and story of St. Valentine. In doing research, I learned that St. Valentine turned out to be somewhat of a mystery because a quick glance at the General Roman Calendar of Saints will show you that he is not listed. So, my curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask, who is this saint, and how did he happen to get connected to this very famous, very commercial holiday?

The short answer about St. Valentine is that he is a third century Roman saint whom not much is known about because of lack of accurate records. The first fun fact about St. Valentine is that he is listed on the Roman listing of Martyrology in the Feb. 14 slot, but was removed from the general Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969 because of lack of accurate information. As with many of the saints who fall in this category, the legends about him and the known stories are often blurred. I will focus on a couple of the reported legends/stories of St. Valentine.

One very common story associated with St. Valentine is that he was a Bishop of Terni, a town in Italy. While under house arrest his guard, Judge Asterius, decided to put his faith to the test and asked him to restore the sight of his blind daughter. If St. Valentine was successful, Asterius would agree to do whatever Valentine asked of him. The daughter was healed of her blindness and Asterius was asked to destroy all the idols in his home and to be baptized.

Asterius, as well as 44 members of his household, were baptized into Christianity. St. Valentine was later sent to be executed for continuing to preach the faith, and it is said that prior to his death he wrote a letter to Asterius’ daughter and signed it, “…from your Valentine.”

Another popular story of St. Valentine is that he defied a ruling by Emperor Claudius and would often secretly marry Christian soldiers so they would not have to go to war. It was thought that unmarried soldiers were more willing to fight because they did not have any attachments to wives or children. Emperor Claudius forbid people from getting married because he felt it would make a stronger army. St. Valentine, however, would secretly aid Christians and marry couples, both a serious crime. Even after being discovered he still had a heart for the Emperor and attempted to convert him. This eventually angered Emperor Claudius and he sent Valentine to be executed.

Both of these stories are beautiful examples of love for Christ and love for neighbor being the highest priority. But I am sure the question is still, “How did he get associated with the commercial holiday?” St. Valentine’s stories and legends just so happened to perfectly coincide with the common belief in the Middle Ages that birds often begin to look for a mate in the middle of February. There was also a pagan feast called Lupercalia that St. Valentines feast day overpowered and replaced. There have been many authors throughout the centuries that have written about St. Valentine, even as far back as Chaucer, and most writers associated this saint with love, devotion and romance. (See Catholic.org/saint.)

In reflecting on this saint, it is clear to me that the stories tell one common tale. St. Valentine’s love for Christ fueled his love for all those around him. If nothing else, St. Valentine teaches us that our relationship with Christ can help us rise above our current situations. It can teach us to see others in a different light, just like his desire to convert the Emperor, who was persecuting him. Most importantly, our personal relationship with Christ will help us pour out love to others, our spouse, our family and all those around us.

So whether you went all-out for your beloved on Feb. 14 or whether you are a constant romantic who feels the need to celebrate your spouse all year, St. Valentine can be a great reminder to all of us in this month, before Lent begins, to get our heart and our minds back onto the source of love, which is Christ. St. Valentine, patron saint of love, young people and happy marriages, pray for us!

Tremblay is Marriage and Life Ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.

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