The story behind Valentine’s Day, like many good old stories, is shrouded in the fogs of myth and legend. Some sources say that St. Valentine was a rogue priest who performed Christian marriage ceremonies for young soldiers and their sweethearts, breaking ancient Roman law. There are other hagiographies that say that he healed the blind and defied the emperor.
Even though there are many stories about Valentine (and even many stories about many different Valentines!), the oldest and most reliable account is clear about the important details: there once was a man named Valentine, and he loved the Lord Jesus, and he died for that love.
It’s a strange story to focus on in the midst of all the chocolates and roses and hearts that decorate our stores and our schools and our news sources during February.
Or is it?
At first glance, the sweet little crayon’d Valentines that my kids give me and the bloody story of the first Valentine feel like they don’t exist in the same world. The first belongs to my clean, easy, first-world life and the second to a life more primal, more real.
But the stories of our saints and martyrs aren’t disconnected from our day-to-day life.
The truth is that Valentine loved the same Lord Jesus that I do.
And the truth is that it is that great love, the Lord Jesus’ own love (because we only love him because he first loved us), that is behind all lesser loves – yes, even my love for my own children, for my own husband, and their love for me.
And so, when we look back through the mists of time at that first Valentine, the man who died for the Lord he loved, we shouldn’t dismiss the little, lovely trappings of his holiday, like declaring our love with cards and flowers and chocolates. Loving one another, after all, is what the Lord who Valentine served commanded us to do: Love one another. As I have loved you, so ought you to love one another.
Romantic love, in all its delight, is the good gift of God. So is the warmth of maternal love and so is the joy of true friendship. And love cannot keep quiet. It overflows in our actions and speeches and our smiles – and sometimes it also overflows in crayon-marked construction paper hearts made by seven-year-olds.
So the true story of St. Valentine doesn’t mean our paper hearts and pretty flowers are inappropriate. Instead, the story of St. Valentine can just remind us that those little signs of love have a far deeper source: in the love of God himself.
Jessica Snell is the General Editor of Kalos Press and she blogs about books, faith, and family at Homemaking Through the Church Year. She and her husband live in sunny Southern California with their four children.
Her book, “Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home”, takes the reader through all the seasons of the Christian calendar, from Advent to Ordinary Time. Broken down into specific sections like History, Traditions, In the Kitchen, Ideas, and Resources, “Let Us Keep the Feast” is an easy, interesting read full of simple traditions and the rich meanings behind them.
Thank you so much for being my guest today, Jessica! I tend to live in a clean, happy, hearts & paper world, so this was a good reminder of how much people sacrificed over the centuries for their faith. Thank you!
Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? What makes it meaningful for you?
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Have a fantastic day!