So Who Was St. Valentine?
We all, especially as little kids in school, have celebrated Valentine’s Day. Remember when we all exchanged little Valentines in envelopes and passed them around to all our classmates when we were young? And now, Janet and I still exchange cards each February 14th as a remembrance of our love for one another, even though in our lives, every day is Valentine’s Day.
And then there was the famous St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago when members of the Capone gang murdered members of George “Bugs” Moran’s gang. The Capone gang posed as police officers and lined up seven members of the Moran gang – killing them with machine guns. If “Bugs” hadn’t been late for a meeting at the garage, he well may have been assassinated as well. But, as fate would have it, he escaped death that day…
Similarly, the stories about St. Valentine are as odd as some of the things that have happened on February 14th since the late third century when the future saint lived and, ultimately, died. Legend has it that death came from beating and then beheading for trying to convert people to Christianity. But that’s the end of the story, after years of work to put couples together, including performing marriage ceremonies!
It seems that the emperor at the time, Claudius II of Rome, had banned all marriages as he was having trouble recruiting troops. Apparently, men were so concerned about their wives and children that they were unwilling to serve in the military. To solve this problem, Claudius II banned all marriages and started to more heavily recruit men for the military. Valentine secretly performed wedding ceremonies for couples in love and was eventually caught and imprisoned for the offense.
Here’s where history gets a little murky. Tradition has it that during Valentine’s imprisonment, he professed his love of Jesus and was challenged to heal the jailer’s blind girl or face death. Valentine touched the girl and, apparently, healed the child. The jailer became a believer in Jesus and released Christian prisoners from captivity. Valentine’s miracle healing led other people to Christianity and he became more outspoken in his conversion attempts.
Although accounts vary, some historians believe that Valentine eventually tried to convert Claudius II himself and the Roman emperor became enraged at the thought. He sentenced Valentine to death by beating and beheading. On the day of his execution, in about 278 A.D., tradition indicates that Valentine left a card or note for the jailer’s daughter – the one who was healed – with the inscription, “From your Valentine.” Thus begins the history of the now famous cards given and received each February 14th.
Eventually, the Catholic church recognized the sainthood of Valentine, commencing in the fifth century. Greeting cards associated with the day can be traced back as far back as the 1400’s. And currently, it is estimated that the average American spends $146 on Valentine’s Day (seems difficult to believe) and there are 131 million cards exchanged each year – 85% of them bought by women.
Our verse for this evening highlights another kind of love – similar but more intense than the love we express for one another. It is the model of behavior Jesus showed us. We are told, by Jesus Himself, in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
My encouragement this evening is that God loves His Son, Jesus, and Jesus loves us following the example of His Father. That is the same kind of love that we are to express to one another. My prayer is that not only today, but everyday, we will aspire to love one another well – and that Valentine’s Day could be celebrated every day – when love, and not hate, dominates the world. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…