Happy St. Valentine’s Day!
Hang on to your hats and wallets, folks, because this Friday is Valentine’s Day, or as my priest friends and I like to call it, “National Celibate Persons Awareness Day.” I’m kidding of course, and while I think Valentine’s Day might be a little over-the-top in its celebrations these days, it’s still a pretty great holiday, mostly because it helps bring attention to the beauty of the sacrament of marriage.
So who was St. Valentine? Well, that’s where things get a little complicated. There are many different legends featuring a saint with the name “Valentine,” so it’s unclear which St. Valentine we’re celebrating on February 14. One story that probably fits the theme of the day best is that St. Valentine was a priest (or bishop?) living in the 3rd Century under the reign of the Emperor Claudius Gothicus. In a period of persecution, St. Valentine fearlessly served the Christian community, providing for their needs, even under persecution. He defied the order of the emperor and performed Christian weddings, not only to strengthen the couple in a culture that set itself against the dignity of Christian marriage, but also to allow husbands to escape conscription into the Roman Legion. The legend states that in order to remind the couple of their sacred vows to each other and the abiding love of God that they represent in the sacrament, St. Valentine cut small hearts out of parchment and gave them to the persecuted Christians, which is perhaps the basis of our own exchange of cards on Valentine’s Day. St. Valentine was eventually discovered, and was martyred for the faith.
It might seem ironic that we celebrate a 3rd century martyr’s feast day by exchanging little cards or chocolates. But it’s worth reflecting that this man gave his life in an effort to defend and strengthen couples in the sacrament of marriage. In many ways, marriage seems to be the battleground in the world today, whether by formal legislation that opposes the dignity of marriage, or by a de-emphasis on the importance of celebrating a marriage in the Church.
A big part of the reason why the Church appears so inflexible on marriage in our modern world is because she holds it in such esteem. Marriage is an incredible gift, not just to the couple celebrating it, but to the Church, as it is a concrete image and reminder of God’s love for each one of us. One of the most popular wedding photos right now is of a groom as he sees his bride begin to walk down the aisle at the beginning of Mass. Imagine if the look on his face – overwhelmed with her beauty and with his own love for her – is how God looks at you! Christ’s love for you is so passionate and so complete, and marriage reflects this in a unique and beautiful way. That’s a gift that’s worth fighting for, and even dying for, as St. Valentine shows us.
As we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day this week, may God bless all those in our parish who are living out the married vocation, or who are preparing for marriage. Thank you for your witness to God’s selfless love for the Church!