As Valentine’s Day approaches, the television commercials, newspaper ads and mailbox flyers seem to be becoming increasingly insistent. Demanding, even.
I’ve been becoming increasingly convicted over the past several years with regard to our culture’s hyper-consumerism, and so perhaps I am more sensitive to it- but am I right? Is it out of control, or what?
I am a hopeless romantic, so it seems kind of funny that I, of all people, would be writing this piece, but here I am- thinking these ‘crazy’ thoughts, nonetheless.
So, it seems that as I am being transformed from glory to glory, so are my thoughts with regard to this revered “holiday.” I want any new response that I form to be consistent with my Christian values, but in order to do this; I want to make sure that my values are those of authentic, historic Christianity rather than the things we modern American Christians co-mingle with Christianity (prosperity, consumerism, capitalism, etc.).
And so, I go back to St. Valentine, himself. Who was he? What did he do? What did he stand for? How did he live out the gospel in his time as an example to the people of his day?
What we know of St. Valentine remains elusive, at best. It seems there may have been more that one Valentine, and for this reason, his ‘feast day’ in the Roman Catholic Church was removed from the Catholic Calendar of Saints.
The story I find most compelling and romantic is found in a book called the Legenda Aurea, written by Jacobus de Voragine around 1260 A.D. in the Middle Ages. In it is this very brief account of our beloved St. Valentine:
Valentinus was a priest and physician in third century Rome (the 200’s). According to church tradition, he was known for performing acts of compassion, mercy, and kindness amongst the poor. He took seriously Jesus’ admonition to care for and heal the sick, and as a physician, this was a focus of his Christian ministry.
During the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus, Christians were being persecuted and he was arrested for practicing Christianity by Claudius and personally handed over to the magistrate. While in custody, he healed the adopted daughter of the magistrate of blindness. As a result, the entire family of the magistrate was converted to Christianity (as were many others) while Valentinus was imprisoned.
This enraged the Emperor Claudius, who ordered his immediate execution. Prior to the sentence being carried out, legend tells us that Claudius demanded a retraction/denial of Christ from the unfortunate physician. Valentinus, true to his name (‘one of valor’), refused to deny Christ and was beheaded on February 14, 280.
The feast day of St. Valentine commemorates his life of selfless service, Christian charity (love) and ministry to those in need. Interestingly, romantic love was not incorporated into the legend until much later in around the 14th century (1300’s) by people such as Geoffrey Chaucer.
Whether the above account is 100% factual is less important than recognizing that this information is true in the sense that the story it tells is much more in line with what we understand of Christianity and Christian love than the more recent Hallmark™ Greeting Cards’ version. Christian love is not the same as romantic love, at its best- it supersedes romantic love in that Christian love is unconditional, unapologetic, and unfailing.
We all have learned that the loved practiced by the members of the early Christian church was agape, a sacrificial act of will first demonstrated by God to us (God’s love toward us is known as hesed love, or loving-kindness- and denotes a covenantal, pursuing love) and reciprocated by us to God, and then also offered to our neighbors (both friend and enemy) as a result of an outpouring of our gratitude toward God for loving us. Agape is another word for “love” but it is not indicative of emotion as much as it is a word describing an act of will or an intentional way of behaving toward others. Jesus describes the greatest form of love as being one that is sacrificial to the point of dying for another if need be (John 15:13). What’s more, He demonstrated this highest form of love to us, even though we didn’t deserve it (Romans 5:8).
Romantic love can be a wonderful thing, and certainly has its place, but since it can lead to irrational, irresponsible and idolatrous behavior we need to remain cognizant that it is but one of the many ways in which we are capable of loving. Additionally, we need to be aware that it is not one of the ways that we are commanded to love. Yet, our missional call in this regard is clear- offering sacrificial love is an expectation of our call Philippians 2:5-9 (esp v. 5)
So…What would happen if we Christians decided to expropriate Valentine’s Day- I mean, it was ours in the first place, after all anyway- wasn’t it? Did you know that according to the National Retail Federation, the 2013 Valentine’s Day Spending Survey conducted by BIGinsights, the average person planning to spend $130.97 on candy, cards, gifts and more? That's up from $126.03 last year, which is remarkable, given that state of the economy. Total spending will reach $18.6 billion.
What can we do within our spheres of influence/communities to promote this more accurate and uniquely Christian understanding of the day? An even better question is this- What would happen if we decided to use that day, or the season (like at Christmastide) to be agents of God’s hesed love. What would happen if we could re-direct even 10% of that money toward showing God’s love…Christian love to the 30,000 children who starve to death every day on this planet?
So I wonder…Can we find a way to enjoy this holiday of love in a way that is both fun and which also rightly honors the man for which the day is named?