Valentine: man of mystery

St. Valentine’s Day is coming at us – cards, chocolates and all.

Who was Valentine, who is also celebrated by many Christians besides Roman Catholics? The Eastern Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Lutherans and the Anglicans also honor him. What did he do to become so well-known?

Actually, Valentine is a bit of a mystery man. Pope Gelasius I, who established his February 14 feast day in the year 496, described Valentine as one of those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” No help there. However, the Roman Martyrology describes him as a martyr for the Faith. He may have been a priest or bishop. He may have secretly married couples, so that the husband would not have to go fight and get killed  for the Roman Empire.

Some scholars suggest we have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for this connection of Valentine and romance. In Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules, the birds choose their mates around his feast. Many birds do mate in February.

Valentine is also associated with another form of romance, courtly love, which was all the rage in the late Middle Ages. Picture the chivalrous knight, wearing a lady’s colors, maybe his queen’s colors, and performing dangerous, even fatal, deeds for her. It was a chaste love.

Whatever Valentine’s connection or non-connection to love, it is a perfect day for couples to renew their love for one another, for children to celebrate the love their parents shower on them, for friends to cherish one another, for anyone to reach out to another.

The Gospel for February 14, which is also the Feast of St. Cyril and Methodius, recounts an act of genuine love. Jesus encounters a deaf man with a speech impediment and heals him.  Maybe Valentine’s Day can be a day of kindness toward people who ordinarily don’t receive much kindness. Of course, you do that all year ’round but I think it would be especially appreciated on St. Valentine’s Day.


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