When we think of the month of February, we often think of Valentine’s Day and think of hearts, roses and candy. According to historical sources, the roots of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is unclear, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Regardless of what February 14 signifies for you, I would encourage you to go beyond the “Hallmark” marketing to find ways every day to show love, kindness, compassion and encouragement to those around you. What are you doing to show love as Paul wrote about it to the Corinthians? A love that is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not proud, not self-seeking, slow to anger, keeps no record of wrongs, love that protects, hopes and perseveres. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 again, and read it not as a romantic vow, but as a Christian mandate for our every day lives. Go forth and show love in all that you say and do.