History has it that Valentine was a priest in Rome around the time of the third Century. Along with his friend St Marius and his family he assisted the martyrs who were being persecuted under Claudius II. After Valentine was apprehended he was sent to the prefect of Rome who tried to him get him to renounce his faith. When all his attempts failed he had Valentine beaten with clubs, stoned and then beheaded on February 14th, about the year 270.
Even though Valentine is a hero in my eyes for his incredible bravery when faced with torture, I don’t quite know how his life suddenly made became associated with romance. Possibly it was because at that time in history Claudius decided he wanted to increase the size of his army. To inspire the young men to come and fight for him he issued an edict which prohibited young men from marrying. This was based on the assumption that single men fought better than those who were married because they did not have to give any thought to the wives and children they may leave behind if they died on the battlefield. As you can imagine there were many young couples who were not too impressed with the emperor’s ideals.
There are tales that say that Valentine, as a priest, knew the importance of a Christian marriage, so he secretly married young couples who came to him seeking his help in this matter. However when it was discovered that he was performing these marriage ceremonies, Claudius looked none too kindly on it and had him flung into prison.
While he was in prison, one of the men, Asterius, who was either going to be a judge on his case or was his jailer, (history seems to be unsure which it was) had a daughter who was blind. She came to visit Valentine in prison, and after the saint’s intercession she recovered her sight, which led to her Father becoming a Christian.
It is also said that some of the last words that Valentine wrote before his execution were to Asterius’ daughter; and in ending the note he signed it “from your Valentine”, thus inadvertently inspiring many romantics down through the centuries to sign their declaration of love in the same way.
Whatever the true story about St Valentine, as with all the Saints we need to look at their lives and see how we can emulate them. St Valentine is someone who dedicated his whole life to the service of God through his priesthood. He then lays down his life in service of his friends and pays the ultimate price.
Now, you and I may not be called to lay down our lives in quite the same way, but we are called to great sacrificial love that requires us to lay down our lives at the service of others. This is a sign of true love. It’s not just some romantic notion but something concrete that calls us beyond the borders of our own lives into something much deeper and richer. It calls us to be willing to invest our time, energy, money, talents, etc., for the good of another; and it asks us to do it time and time again. True love always requires real sacrifice.
To help your children celebrate the feast of St Valentine you could get them involved in some baking. Why not make some heart-shaped cookies; or a lovely heart-shaped cake to give to or to share with someone who you know who may need a bit of TLC.