Reclaiming St Valentine’s Day
For two decades we’ve promoted the idea of putting the ‘saint’ back into St Valentine’s Day. Every year we blog, pin, post, and remind the Catholic networks in our database of the day’s origin and significance.
But it’s not just about keeping the saint in the day and resisting the secularisation of yet another Christian feast day. It’s also about promoting the unique role that marriage plays in our church and in society.
Martyrs for Marriage
St Valentine, a Roman bishop, was martyred for conducting secret weddings against the decree of Emperor Claudius II (269 AD). He so valued marriage he was willing to give his life defending it.
That should give us pause… It’s easy to be cavalier about the history of martyrs thinking that modern society has evolved beyond such petty persecution. Indeed, most of us have never really suffered social alienation, let alone imprisonment or martyrdom, for defending an aspect of our faith.
St Valentine, however, was not alone among the martyrs for marriage: St John the Baptist, St Thomas More, St John Fisher and Blessed Peter To Rot all remind us that following Christ’s understanding comes with a cost.
Why did St Valentine give his life defending marriage? And why should we care now, when the saint is long gone from public awareness and commercial interests are entrenched?
Marriage for a Reason
Marriage, or more accurately, Matrimony – that is man-woman marriage between Christian believers – is fundamental to our understanding of the nature of God’s love. For God’s love for us is not just philosophical or hypothetical – it is real, tangible, and physical.
As a sacrament of intimacy, Matrimony is most intensely manifested in our lovemaking and is literally a ‘one-flesh union’. It is also analogous of the other Sacrament of intimacy of the Church – the Eucharist.
Both Sacraments, in their different ways, are grounded in the intention and action of “take this is my body given to you”. Both are visible signs of our call to a ‘one-flesh union’.
St Valentine, and these other martyrs for marriage, understood that marriage was not some social construct, but rather was fundamentally important to the idea that God’s love for humanity was revealed through the love between husband and wife.
And that was something worth dying for.
Reclaiming the Saint
Putting the Saint back into St Valentine’s Day is a slow project. Not only has St Val’s day been captured by commercial interests (think roses, chocolates, jewellery, restaurants, movies and endless bric-a-brac), but it’s also been hijacked for relationships that don’t even have romance as a feature.
Believe it or not, it’s now a thing for kids to give ‘valentine’ cards or crafts to everyone in their class! A google search (‘valentine’s day activities for kids’) produces a dizzying array of suggestions including for toddlers and pre-schoolers.
Mercifully, a search with the word ‘saint’ in the query returns stories, videos and even craft activities which focus on the saint himself; most highlighting his martyrdom and linking it to marriage.
It seems there are others who, like us, seek to reclaim the origins of the feast of St Valentine.
We don’t expect to correct the current culture’s misunderstanding of marriage in our lifetime, but that doesn’t make it fruitless to try. For we are made for more than what the culture offers us: we are made for union and communion with the God who loves us with the passion of a bridegroom on his wedding night.