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True love for St. Valentine’s Day

February 11, 2011 One Comment

by Peggy Pedersen

Next to Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day is probably the biggest gift-giving day of the year and like St. Nicholas, commercial purposes have co-opted St. Valentine. Although little is known about him, he was, like St. Nicholas, probably a bishop or priest in the early Christian church, although there were several saints by the same name, including one or two martyrs. 

It was in Chaucer’s time (C1343-1400) that themes of romantic love became attached to St. Valentine even though the church earlier commemorated him for his piety.

Valentinus, Bishop of Terni (in Italy) and Christian martyr, who risked his life to perform marriages during the ban on Christian practices under the reign of Emperor Claudius, 3rd century.

The most common account is tied to a Roman priest named Valentinus during the time of Claudius II. It was a time of persecution and Rome imprisoned Valentinus for performing marriages for Christian couples. After trying to convert Claudius, the Roman emperor, Valentinus was stoned and beheaded. 

Another priest named Valentinus was also beheaded for helping Christians. He purportedly fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and sent her notes “from your Valentine”—perhaps the origin of today’s Valentine’s Day cards.

Whether or not the commemoration of St. Valentine was established to co-opt a pagan holiday on the same day, it has certainly become one. It is no longer celebrated by any Christian church. At best, some people use it as an opportunity to propose marriage or treat one’s spouse to a special dinner; at worst, it obscures the meaning of true love.

The romantic notion of love as a feeling, especially one that should be denied nothing, has resulted in a distortion of love—even to the extent of being used as an excuse for betraying a spouse, disregarding children, disobeying God’s law, justifying behaviour wherever feelings lead, and worst of all, blaspheming the very nature of God and His love.

St. Paul, writing on love in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor.13: 4-8), a passage often read at Christian marriages, says: “Love never ends.” It is not a fleeting infatuation. St. Paul says that love “does not insist on its own way” and “does not rejoice in wrongdoing” but “rejoices in the truth.”

These are not the characteristics of the type of love (which is lust) our culture rushes after and glorifies, an altar upon which is sacrificed the concept of right and wrong, the truth of God’s Word, concern for others, and the fulfillment of selfish desires, while at the same time engaging in self-justification. 

Yet, we are not called to be self-righteous prudes (for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we have been saved by God’s mercy, not by our own righteousness.) Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:9,10 says that, because this is the way of the world, we cannot avoid associating with non-believers, those who do such things. After all, Jesus came for sinners, not the righteous, and He has not called us out of the world, but to be a light within it by showing a better way. 

We are called to love others with the love of Christ.

That better way is not just moral living. Many non-believers live morally. Immorality is not the great sin of the world. The world’s great sin is its rejection of Christ, the Son of the Living God. The great sin is of unbelief in the only Son of God, the only Saviour.

We are called to love others with the love of Christ. True love is seen in Christ’s giving to us all He was and had. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). But “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Christ died for us while we were still His enemies!

We are called to show how Christ loves with the example of Christian marriage: the self-sacrificial, faithful and forgiving love for our spouse and children through all the uncertainties of life. We are called to proclaim the love of Christ, an incomprehensible love that has taken our sins and those of the whole world upon Himself and grants forgiveness and eternal life to all who trust in Him. 

For those in the body of Christ, whenever we have sinned against Love in any way towards God or neighbour, there is confession, absolution and reconciliation.

For those who do not know Him or have rejected Him, He does not cease to love them or pray for them. Nor should we. From His cross He prayed: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We all seek true love: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 4:10).

St. Valentine demonstrated true love for neighbour and God because he had been captured by the true love of Christ and in that love he counted as joy all suffering for the sake of that love, eternal and perfect, given for him, given for you. 

When I married my husband I told him not to buy me roses on February 14 but buy me rose bushes in the spring which would produce a never-ending supply of roses over the years. I now have a garden filled with roses. When the Lord calls us to faith, it’s not to experience His one-time act of grace, but to experience it daily and to share it with others! For His is a love that never disappoints, and He loves you with a measureless and everlasting love. 

Peggy Pedersen is a freelance writer and member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Victoria, B.C.

  • A great article, thanks Peggy! I thought this line was particularly poignant: “Immorality is not the great sin of the world. The world’s great sin is its rejection of Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the great thing is that we have the love of Christ to share with them, not a message of “be better people!”