The Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia took place on February 15, and day before, the 14th, was dedicated the Juno, Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses, patroness of women and love. The associated custom of young men drawing a girl's name from a jar to be paired with her for the festival added to the romance of the event. Sometimes this pairing would last for the whole year until the next festival came round. Folklore also claimed that birds started to mate on February 14, bringing new hope for the coming of spring.
And now we get around to the saint whose name made the charts. Little actual evidence exists about St. Valentine, but there are legends galore. It is said that the Roman Emperor Claudius II outlawed all marriages and engagements in Rome because he was having difficulty recruiting men for his army who had wives and sweethearts. Enter Valentine, a Christian priest, who defied the emperor's order and continued to marry couples in secret. Eventually, he was found out and arrested by the authorities for performing forbidden Christian ceremonies. When the they tried to force him to offer incense to twelve pagan gods in return for being released, he refused without hesitation.
Realizing that Valentine was a learned man, his jailer asked him if he would be willing to give lesson to his his blind daughter, Theodora. Valentine agreed and soon befriended the intelligent young woman who quickly took to learning about Roman history, the world of nature, and arithmetic. He showed her more love than she had ever been shown by her father or anyone else. Having since been regarded as a reject from society, "cursed by the gods", she was intrigued by the Christian religion, which told of a love that went beyond surface and reached the soul. Later, Valentine's intercession and Theodora's own growing faith in Jesus resulted in the miraculous restoration of her sight.
Valentine was eventually brought before the Emperor Claudius to make his case. Claudius was initially impressed by the priest's spirited defense, but when he went so far as to try to convert the emperor, he was hauled back to his cell. While there, he did manage to convert a guard and 47 members of his family to Christianity! Also, before he was taken away to be executed, he sent Theodora a farewell message signed: "From your Valentine". He was tortured and executed on Feb. 14, 269 A.D, near a gate later named Porta Valentini in his honor. It is said that Theodora came there to grieve for him, and planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave as a symbol of their friendship and love.
So this month of St. Valentine, remember that true love is not just about romance, although that certainly is part of it. It's also about the the transcending love that God has shown to us, and the love that we are charged to show one another. In essence, we must love everyone because God has loved us all first, no matter physical or mental states, no matter our sinful natures, no matter our states in life. He comes to bring us grace to turn away from sin, to make us whole in our spirits, and to see Himself in everyone around us. That is the true meaning of St. Valentine's Day.
To conclude this post, here's a poem from our friend, Mack, on St. Valentine -- and the quirkiness of modern-day remembrances! ;-)
St. Valentine Unleaded
A priest obscure and poor in the long ago
Benignly smiled upon the young, and sought
To join young lovers in happiness, and so
He gave a boon (as Chaucer’s Parsoun taught)
And kindly dowered many a poor-born bride.
And blessed young marrieds to their wedding bowers
Hand in hand, heart with heart, and side by side -
We remember his martyrdom with gas-station flowers.
|St. Valentine, ora pro nobis!|