The legends of Valentine’s Day inseparably blend fact and myth. Most scholars believe the holiday grew out of the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. The pagan celebration provided an occasion for all sorts of excess—think Mardi Gras on steroids.
In 496 A. D., Pope Gelasius of Rome attempted to transform the pagan festival of debauchery into a Christian celebration of love. He created a new holy day named in honor of two church martyrs. Both men were named Valentine.
The first Valentine was a priest beheaded in 269 A. D. for assisting persecuted Christians. Three years afterwards another Valentine was executed because he converted a Roman family to the Christian faith. The church later canonized both men as saints.
Today, February 14th celebrates romantic love. Cupids, hearts, candy, flowers, and cards express undying affection for one’s beloved. Even the “Saint” in “Valentine’s Day” is usually missing. Apparently, Pope Gelasius’ attempt to replace a secular holiday with a Christian holy day largely failed!
Our society needs to recapture the spirit of Saint Valentine. In a culture of narcissistic self-gratification and disposable relationships, these saints remind us of love’s true nature. They exemplified the Christian virtue of love in life and death. The martyrs named Valentine understood the selfless nature of love. They put others’ welfare before their own.
Love is not love until it costs something; and true love costs a lot. Real devotion demands costly action. More than a sentimental journey, Christian love is an active, selfless, and sacrificial willingness to seek out the best for others.
Godly love is not based upon feeling but willing. Deep love is not an emotion of the heart but a discipline of the soul. Warm, fuzzy feelings can carry us only so far. Christian love is much deeper and sterner stuff. We love because God first loved us. With such confidence, we can risk loving others.
While most of us will never be martyred for the faith, we can lay down our lives in daily service to others. Simple, daily acts of kindness and thoughtfulness are the most common expressions of love. Hardly the stuff of newspaper headlines, but practical acts of love can transform ourselves and others.
What Valentine’s Day gifts will we give and receive this year? Allow me to suggest something beyond flowers, candy, and cards.
This week we could forgive a grudge, visit someone who is sick, listen to one’s spouse, read to a child, give blood, deliver a meal, provide a break for a care giver, or call someone who is grieving.
Actions that cost us time, energy, and effort are true expressions of Christian love. Such love is both costly and priceless. Anything else is only lip service to an unrealized ideal.
Happy Valentine’s Day—I hope it costs you a lot!