Happy Saint Valentine’s Day!
During yet another commercial enterprise by the retail world that insists that the only way you can show your love for another is by helping with their profit margin! I offer something of an alternative look at Saint Valentine of Rome.
What you may not hear today is that St Valentine was a proper holy agitator. A 3rd century religious menace living and working in the heart of a very oppressive Roman world under Claudius II.
Valentine lived in Rome at a time when Christians were often persecuted. The reason for the persecution was the Christian claim of Christ’s sovereignty, which inevitably clashed with Caesar's claim of his own exclusive power and self-proclaimed godlike status. There was an expectation that all citizens would adhere to all the practices of the state religion by attending numerous feast and festival days throughout the year.
There are many legends of Valentine -- that he courageously refused to pay homage to the imperial gods faithful only to Christ, and that he was a war resister, subversively marrying young couples preventing the men from going to war (the emperor Claudius believed unmarried men made better soldiers so married men were spared the horrors of war).
His subversive behaviour ended with Valentine being clubbed, beaten and stoned to death, and finally beheaded on February 14th, 269CE. In the year 496, February 14 was named as a day of celebration in Valentine’s honour.
So what should we be marking on the day of his death?
Well this story of Valentine might help. Just before Valentine was executed by Claudius’ charge, whilst imprisoned, Valentine became friends with the daughter of his captor and judge. While under the arrest of Judge Asterius, and discussing his faith with him, Valentinus (the Latin version of his name) was discussing the validity of Jesus. The judge put Valentinus to the test and brought to him the judge's adopted blind daughter. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl's sight, Asterius would do whatever he asked. Valentinus, praying to God, laid his hands on her eyes and the child's vision was restored. Immediately humbled, the judge asked Valentinus what he should do. Valentinus replied that all of the idols around the judge's house should be broken, and that the judge should fast for three days and then undergo the Christian sacrament of baptism. The judge obeyed and, as a result, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family, and his forty-four member household (family members and servants) were baptized. Then, as the legend goes -- on the day of Valentine’s execution, he left the Judge’s daughter a note signed: "Your Valentine" ... instigating what has become a classic Valentine's tradition around the world -- of sending little notes to people we love (or people we would like to love).
So today I task you with a few challenges. Firstly, ask a Christian about baptism and Jesus, or if someone wants to talk to you about Jesus, don’t switch off and dismiss them, listen and see what they have to say, because today is Valentine’s Day and the only reason we mark the day is because of Valentine's faith. Secondly, in memory of Valentine’s remarkable courage make sure you say with all your heart how much you love those who mean the most to you, like your wife, husband, partner, family members, closest friend. Whoever it might be to you, make sure you’ve had the time to say how much you love them. Thirdly, in memory of Valentine and the compassion he showed to his oppressive jailer and judge, reach out to someone you don’t see eye to eye with, and find out how life changing these words of Jesus are.
For Jesus said (Luke 6:27-36), ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.”
29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Yours in Jesus
Revd Jeremy Putnam
In January 1989 Gillette launched its new slogan ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ with an $80m campaign during the Super Bowl XXIII. The slogan caught on and was translated into fourteen different languages.
Thirty years later the company released a new campaign ‘The Best A Man Can Be’ encouraging men to reject bullying and ‘traditional masculinity’.
Reaction to the ad was overwhelmingly negative across the world with many skeptical of a company profiting by telling men how to act.
It has however opened up the debate once again as to whether ‘traditional masculinity’ is a problem.
The facts from North America where the ad was first released are alarming:
The American Psychological Association recently released “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” which were founded on the postmodern belief that “masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.”
It identified “traditional masculinity” as “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”
Is this how it should be and if not what is the answer?
David French recently wrote that “grown men are the solution, not the problem” and he calls on men to shape their “inherent aggression, sense of adventure, and default physical strength for virtuous ends.”
In his view, we need more fathers to raise sons with discipline, respect, and encouragement.
We also need to escape masculinity which tells men they are to go it alone and to seek assistance is to minimalise their manhood.
We have a delicate balance, given to us by God from the very beginning, which is needed to be kept.
“…the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Work and keep translate Hebrew words meaning to improve and guard. Men were created to produce and protect, to work and provide.
However, men were not intended to be self-sufficient. Immediately after creating the first man, God created the first woman, explaining: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18). To fulfill their life purpose, men need women, other men, and especially their Father.
Self-reliance is a destructive illusion - “No man is an island” is not just a poem–it’s a fact and self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. It cuts us off from the only true source of abundant life (John 10:10).
So how do men become the “Best A Man Can Be”?
Jesus Christ was the perfect male and should be our example.
He was strong enough to drive money changers from the temple (Matthew 21:12) but gentle enough to embrace children (Matthew 19:13-15). He was courageous enough to confront the corrupt leaders of his nation (Matthew 23) but compassionate enough to weep for them (Luke 19:41).
Now he is praying for us (Romans 8:34) as his Spirit works to transform us into his character (v. 29). He is ready to help every man become “the best a man can be.” And every woman to become the best she can be as well.
It is the challenge of a live time to live up to this standard but if we strive for it we will be our best and the people we serve will be blessed, to the glory of God.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.