Valentine’s Day is a holiday with strong roots as a Holy Day. St Valentine was a Martyr of the 3rd Century whose feast day was officially celebrated on 14 February until 1969. St Valentine continues to be venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church for his heroism in attempting to bring Claudius II (aka “Claudius the Cruel”) to the Christian faith; a presumption for which he was beheaded. Relics of the saint rest in Rome and Dublin to this day.
St Valentine’s patronage of young people and lovers began in Medieval England, Scotland and France, and may have been sparked off by Geoffrey Chaucer. In a highly fanciful poem, “The Parlement of Foules”, Chaucer writes that birds begin to look for a mate on Valentine’s Day! As usual, however, this flight of fancy conceals a high degree of good sense, as the female finally chooses to put off her decision for another year, until her suitors are more mature.
The first Valentine’s Day “card” was sent just two decades after Chaucer’s death, by another great poet, Charles Duke of Orléans, while a prisoner in the Tower of London. He wrote a poem to his wife, Bonne of Armagnac, who lived the last twenty years of her life separated from her husband, and died shortly before his release.
Two centuries later, Valentine’s Day had developed into a tradition which we would recognise today. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia sings a poignant song, “I’m a girl below your window, waiting to be your Valentine”. The song goes on to describe the pitfalls of romantic love and of getting too close too soon:
Amid the superficiality and sentimentalism which passes for love today, remember that real love, whether familial (storge in Greek), filial (philos) or erotic (eros—characterised, that is, by desire), is a reflection of God’s love for us (agape):
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
When we acknowledge St Valentine’s Day, we remember that he is a saint because of his heroic self-sacrifice; because he lived and died for Divine Love; because he gave his life for love of Christ—in perfect imitation of Christ’s love for us. We remember that God’s only begotten Son died on the Cross to save us from eternal torment; that He knows and loves every soul as if she were the only soul in creation; that He is calling everyone one of us to become saints. May these considerations touch our hearts, so that we may learn the true meaning of the phrase:
“Be My Valentine.”
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