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Celebrating Love – St Valentine’s Day

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Remember that Valentine’s Day is more than just a celebration of rosy romance, but also a remembrance of the sacrifice of two courageous persons who died for what they believed in, writes Juliet.

It is strange how a wonderful celebration of love and affection amongst human beings can be so misunderstood and distorted by ignorance.

Do those loudly condemning Valentine’s Day, really know what they are talking about? Do they know what they are getting so worked up about? Do they even know how this tradition of showing affection to our loved ones started and why this tradition is being continued by Christians worldwide? Do those celebrating Valentine’s Day know or understand the significance of it?

Let’s travel back in time and find out who St. Valentine was and why his day is so special. I know of two versions of the legend of St. Valentine that actually began thousands of years ago during the time of the Roman Empire. Christianity was then a reasonably young religion, seen as radical and unacceptable to the Roman government. As with all great religions that still exist today, the early believers were persecuted for practising and evangelising this “new” religion.

According to Catholic Church sources, there are two saints named Valentine. Both of them were priests.

One Valentine lived in 197 AD in Terni. He was martyred for his spiritual belief and for sending secret messages to the Christian community he led during that period of Christian persecution, expressing the love and care he felt towards his ‘flock’.

The other Valentine lived in 269 AD and was a Roman priest who performed marriage ceremonies against a prohibition on marriage laid down by Claudius II, who was Roman Emperor at that time (Source: http://www.heartlandconnection.com/news/story). Emperor Claudius who was waging many wars had prohibited marriage amongst young people due to his mistaken view that married men were less likely to join the army than unmarried men who had no family or family obligations to worry about (Source: http://www.isabelperez.com/St%20ValentineStory.htm). In opposition to this harsh and oppressive edict, Valentine performed wedding ceremonies for young people who came to him for help. He was arrested just after doing this service for a young couple who escaped (‘St. Valentine’s Story’). Catholic sources also say that he performed marriage ceremonies for Christians as Christian marriages were not legally recognised. Helping Christians, at that time, was considered a crime by the Roman government (‘The history of Valentine’s Day’, Venessa Alonso, http://www.heartlandconnection.com/news/story).

Both Valentines were arrested for their activities, detained, tortured and ultimately put to death (martyred) for what they believed.

The more romantic version of Valentine goes on to tell of Valentine’s meeting with the daughter of his jailer who visited him when he was in prison. They became good friends and before he was executed, Valentine left her a letter thanking her for “her friendship and loyalty” and signing off with the words, “Love from your Valentine” (St. Valentine’s Story, http://www.isabelperez.com/St%20ValentineStory.htm). Valentine is said to have been executed either on 14 February 269 AD or 24 February 270 AD (2004abcteach.com).

All in all, Valentine was a brave person who believed in protecting the human right to love and marry, apart from being a true Christian ready to give his life for his faith. The 14 February celebration is really a celebration of this bravery and sacrifice by St Valentine, who is seen by some Catholic religious as an inspiration in loyalty to the faith.

Fr Frank O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, says, “What Valentine means to me as a priest,… is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that — even to the point of death.” His is one of three churches that claim to house the relics of St Valentine and where pilgrims converge on 14 February every year.

Fr O’Gara also gives sound advice on the subject of marriage, “If Valentine were here today, he would say to married couples that there comes a time where you’re going to have to suffer. It’s not going to be easy to maintain your commitment and your vows in marriage. Don’t be surprised if the ‘gushing’ love that you have for someone changes to something less ‘gushing’ but maybe much
more mature. And the question is, is that young person ready for that?”
(Source: The Christian Broadcasting Network, http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/churchandministry/churchhistory/st_valentine_the_real_story)

So, with the enjoyment of the beautiful fragrant roses, chocolates, soft toys, balloons, cards and candle-light dinners, remember that Valentine’s Day is more than just a celebration of rosy romance, but also a remembrance of the sacrifice of two courageous persons in history who died for what they believed in and preserved the right to marry (Article 16 Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Juliet is the pseudonym of a contributor to Thinking Allowed Online.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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