This week, we celebrate Valentine's Day. Red and white displays featuring cards and chocolates in heart shaped boxes appeared in stores the week after Christmas. This week, flowers -- most often roses -- have been ordered for delivery, dinner reservations recorded and bottles of wine carefully selected and chilled in anticipation of a romantic evening. Cards featuring hearts and flowers implore those who receive them to "Be my Valentine."
We think we are celebrating love. We are actually celebrating romance. Romance -- the love people talk about when they speak of being "in love" -- is a special kind of love, but not the only kind. When we concentrate on romance, we lose sight of the love demonstrated by affection, friendship, and acts of compassion as performed by Saint Valentine.
According to legend, Saint Valentine was a Roman priest arrested and imprisoned for performing Christian marriages at a time when aiding Christians was a crime against Imperial Rome. Emperor Claudius Gothicus took a liking to this prisoner until Valentine 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 and buried beside the road outside the Flaminian Gate. According to one legend, before his head was cut off, he healed the sight and hearing of his jailer's daughter. According to another, while imprisoned he wrote notes urging his congregation and friends not to grow weary in well doing and to stand firm in the face of persecution.
The love demonstrated by the saint had nothing to do with romantic feelings and everything to do with compassionate deeds. It had nothing to do with obtaining the favor of the beloved and everything to do with demonstrating that the beloved was favored. The love of Saint Valentine took no regard of personal consequences. The saint did not ask anyone to be his Valentine, but demonstrated by his actions that he was theirs.
How will you celebrate Valentine's day this year?
Will you send flowers, or buy a box of candy? Will you go out to dinner or plan a romantic evening or weekend get-away? If so, enjoy! You do well.
Will you perform some act or acts to be someone's Valentine for no other reason than it needs doing, you can do it and it's the right thing to do? If so, enjoy! You do better.
Or will you commit to performing some act or acts of compassion to be someone's Valentine for the entire year or however long it takes whether such service is recognized or appreciated or not. You may or may not enjoy, but you do best.
In the prayer attributed to him, Francis of Assisi asks
"O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be comforted as to comfort;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."
It is the prayer of one who seeks to be a Valentine.
Whose Valentine will you be this year?
What will you do to demonstrate it?
For how long?