So I happen to be a single woman, and as you can imagine, Valentine’s Day can feel like a lonely day, especially because it’s a holiday that is marketed towards people who are in romantic relationships. It may seem that I have no business talking about the patron saint of this holiday. However, what if I told you that the founder of Valentine’s Day was a single man, who was a priest and later a saint named Valentine?
Saint Valentine lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius. In third century AD, Emperor Claudius imposed an edict, or a law, that banned marriage. This law was particularly targeting military-aged men. In Claudius’ mind, he felt that unmarried soldiers would fight better and with reckless abandon because they wouldn’t worried about their wives and children at home.
When you get married, you make a vow that your life belongs to your spouse, and vice versa. You live for your spouse and you would willingly die for your spouse. Claudius feared the notion that a man would lay down his life for his wife before he would for his country.
Now this edict was before Constantine, so the Christian Church was gaining popularity, but still underground. This no-marriage edict threw the Church in for a loop, and since marriage was a public affair, many priests feared to go against the edict and call attention to themselves. It was still the days where being a Christian meant you could quite literally lose your head.
Valentine believed in preserving and carrying out the sacred institution of marriage and honestly, fear means nothing when you believe in something strong enough. Against all odds, Valentine basically decided to disregard the edict and perform marriages in secret. He celebrated the sacrament of holy matrimony in the catacombs, where only he and God could see the hidden couples engaging their vows.
It is unknown how long Valentine was officiating these underground marriages, but I’m just going to say that after a long period of time, someone betrayed Valentine and reported what he was doing to Emperor Claudius.
Valentine was arrested and brought before a panel of judges, one of whom was a man named Asterius. Asterius decided to put Valentine to the test; he ordered him to pray over his sick daughter. If God was real, then surely Valentine’s prayers would cure the child. We can safely assume that Asterius doubted Valentine’s prayers would do anything.
Well, Valentine went to Asterius’ home and prayed over the sickly girl. By the grace of God, she was healed by the prayers of the kind priest.
Asterius realized that this man was the real deal and he became a Christian on the spot. It has been said that to prove his newfound faith, Asterius destroyed all the Pagan idols in his home and fasted for three days. After he was baptized, he freed all of the Christian inmates.
Asterius’ conversion did not bode well with Emperor Claudius. Under his command, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution: He was beaten, stoned and then beheaded.
Before his execution, Valentine had written a letter to Asterius’ daughter, which he gave to Asterius himself. We do not know the contents of the letter, but we do know what Valentine’s signature was. It read, “From your Valentine…”
I find it to be interesting that Valentine’s Day, a day where romantic couples express their love for all to see, exists because of one man’s daring mission to help those who wanted to commit their lives to each other get married in secret. What is even more striking is how this man had no lover of his own. Valentine’s heart belonged to someone greater, a higher power that compelled him to go against an anti-marriage edict to protect a sacrament that is once again under attack in our modern world. He belonged to God alone.
Valentine understood the true meaning of love: To care for others more than you care about yourself, to give your life to a greater cause. Love calls us to change the world.
Saint Valentine, pray for us.