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
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.