Today is a feast, a gift and remembrance, of an occasion I have yet see Hallmark really nail with one of its watercolored limericks: there once was a man so in love with God that he was beheaded for performing marriages in opposition to war. In defense of hallmark, that is a very hard picture to paint with water colors…
In the third century, Emperor Claudius had declared marriage illegal in order to encourage more young men to volunteer to be soldiers. Valentine, a celibate priest, opposed both the aggressive violence of the empire as well as the notion that the state alone held the reins of marriage. The priest knew how central marriage is to the life of the Church and couldn’t stop marrying people just because Claudius had other plans.
After Valentine’s arrest, young people, including many of the young couples he married would visit him in jail, and when possible exchange notes and flowers. The priest would sign his notes, “your Valentine.”
At the very heart of the witness of the Martyr Valentine is a belief that, for Christians, romantic love participates in the love of God and does not exist solely for its own pleasure. It is boundaried and faithful but never independent or closed. His life bore the marks that attraction, affection, marriage and fidelity are all parts of Christian worship that can clearly have implications in the matters of violence and state-making.
This is, in many ways, quite anti Roman-tic in a literal sense because he rejected his culture’s indulgent or utilitarian views on love to believe in the miracle of faithful love bound by God. …not very Roman of him.
So the Christian Valentine is not one who is wildly enamored, flush faced and dopey eyed. In fact the Christian Valentine is not even in love with a single person at all. Instead his passion made other’s passion possible.
So if the expense, demands or loneliness of the holiday get heavy, here are a number of different ways to attack this feast from a different angle. It strikes me that the day is less about being in love than in supporting the love of others, opposing violence, refusing to let the state narrate our lives, and, above all, holding out hope.
If you find yourself without a Valentine you are best posed to be one:
1) donate to an organization like Angel Tree, Inside Books, The Innocence project, or other organizations that care for prisoners.
2) support non-violence organizations like Christian Peacemaking Teams, or Amnesty international who watch for moments when the state becomes too willing to expend the lives of others.
3) Or in the spirit of St. Valentine, make a sacrifice of an evening and babysit or help a friend pay for a romantic dinner. Love the love in others.
Not sure what to do with your spouse tonight?
1) Stay in, eat cheap, light a candle and look at wedding photos.
2) Write a note to members of your wedding party about how they have supported your relationship.
3) Let your single friends know how important they are to your marriage and/or children.
4) Tell your children about all of the people who have helped to raise them and keep them well.
For a Christian, this feast day need never be about what is absent or missing in a relationship or the absence of the relationship itself. It is a testimony to the complex life of a Body of Christ which gives itself over and over to each other, always in the hope of more and new life and love for each day, even at the risk of its own death.
It is in that spirit that I pray and ask God to make me,