Valentine’s Day is next week. It’s Friday, February 14th. (I’m pointing this out mostly for all the men out there who might have forgotten, or need to be reminded-it’s just a “heads up”) But, where did this holiday come from? Like many of our celebrations this one has evolved over the centuries, yes centuries, into more of a commercial exercise and less of what was the original intention.
According to Catholic Online (www.catholic.org/saints) there actually was a priest named Valentine who lived in the 3rd Century C.E. He was martyred around the year 270 C.E. The story is he refused to stop marrying people in Christian services and also refused to stop helping those in need. He was arrested and imprisoned. It turned out the Roman Emperor, Claudius II, became friends with Valentine but Valentine made the fatal mistake of trying to convert the emperor to Christianity, and was promptly condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs, and when that didn’t do the job he was beheaded.
He was canonized a Saint in 496 C.E. by Pope Gelasius who designated February 14 as a celebration of his martyrdom. Saint Valentine is the Patron Saint of engaged couples, bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travelers and young people. Pictures of Saint Valentine typically have him posing with birds and roses.
I know some of you are saying, “That’s interesting, but what I really want to know is where I can get the best deal on some flowers, preferably roses, and chocolate!”But if we stop and think about it for a moment, Saint Valentine just might have more to say to us than a nice dinner with the one we love (not that I am against that at all).
Saint Valentine died for disobeying an Imperial decree that prevented certain people from getting married. People the Emperor decided weren’t qualified to be married. People the Emperor thought of as a threat to the institution of marriage. Saint Valentine died for marrying people who were Christians.
There is a huge debate in our culture today over the institution of marriage, who can be married and who cannot. Despite the fact that many states, including ours, have made marriage legal for same sex couples there is a belief that doing so undermines not only the institution, but undermines my marriage. And your marriage as well. Really?
It seems to me that if I am faithful to the covenant promises I made in my wedding vows there is nothing that can undermine my marriage. Nothing. It also seems to me that if two people love one another and want to make those same covenant promises of love and faithfulness they should have the opportunity to do so. After all, we don’t go to a church to get a license to wed. We go the the County Recorder because marriage is a legal contract, a civil action, and because of that the right to marry is a civil right. For all citizens. Regardless of sexual orientation.
No matter how we might each feel and think about the issue of same sex marriage, and no matter that we might base our feelings on a particular church’s teaching, we ought to consider the rights to life, liberty and happiness guaranteed to all of our citizens. The same rights we want upheld for us. So you see, Saint Valentine might have something to teach us after all. I would ask you to consider this question as you prepare to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day next week: If he were here right now, what would Saint Valentine do?