Friday, February 10, 2012

Your Valentine

This coming week people throughout our nation will celebrate Valentine's day by sending cards, giving gifts of candy and flowers, and indulging in romantic dinners and other events. In our modern celebration we forget that February 14 is the feast day of a saint, St. Valentine.

St. Valentine? Who was he anyway? How did his name get attached to our celebration?

Little definite is known about St. Valentine. Historians are hard pressed to agree who he was or even in which century he lived.  According to one Church legend, Valentine, or Valentinus, was Roman priest during the reign of the emperor Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned for marrying Christian couples at a time when aiding Christians was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until he tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon he was swiftly condemned to death. After beatings with clubs and stoning failed to kill him, Valentine was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate and buried beside the Flaminian Way.  According to one legend, before his head was cut off, he healed the sight and hearing of his jailer's daughter. According to another, before being executed, he wrote notes of love and encouragement urging his congregation and friends to stand firm in the face of persecution and signing them "from your Valentine".

From those notes comes our custom of sending Valentines Cards on February 14, the traditional feast day of the saint.  Such is the stuff of legend.

Today, more than a celebration of sacrificial love and affection exhibited by the saint, Valentine's Day has become a celebration of romance and a product of intense advertising by the greeting card, chocolate, and florist industries. The price of roses is escalating.  Bottles of champagne are flying off the shelves.  Ads for "romantic getaways" at some resort or another fill the mailbox. Sentimental cards decorated in shades of red and pink are being mailed, and large red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates have assumed a prominent place in the local markets. 

Today, cards ask the recipient to "Be my Valentine" rather than offering to be theirs, the flowers, candy and romantic getaways seeking to secure rather than to express one's affection for and encouragement of another.  

This year, I plan to return Valentine's day to the spirit of St. Valentine.  This year, I plan to offer messages and acts of love and encouragement to those who are close to me.  This year, I plan be rather than to send a Valentine.

Will you join me? 

Will you be an encouraging spirit for someone?

Who will that someone be?