Photo by my friend Hannah White; check out her website.
Valentine’s Day is upon us, and lest we forget, marketers have made sure to place flowers, hearts, and chocolate wherever our eyes may rest. It’s a time to celebrate romantic love! And as much as I hate the commercialism attached to holidays, I must say that I do still like to celebrate love.
I think most people do. The story of Valentine’s Day is a good example of why I believe that’s true.
It turns out, historians don’t know for sure which Saint Valentine we are celebrating on Feb. 14th, but one thing all the potential candidates have in common is that they were brutally murdered by the Roman Empire. In other words, they were martyrs.
The most prominent story is that of a Christian priest in the 3rd century who conducted weddings illegally. At that time, there was a shortage of Roman soldiers, so Emperor Claudius II made it illegal for young men to get married. For conducting these marriages, Valentinus was imprisoned. Later, as one story goes, he made the mistake of trying to convert the Emperor to Christianity, for which he was beaten with clubs and stones, then beheaded.
How does this bloody history show that people like to celebrate love, you ask? By the fact that we human beings took that story and transformed even it into an excuse for love-making, flowers, poems and chocolate! As bad as it is sometimes, history can’t keep us down.
Well, maybe that’s just because we don’t know the history, right? Who actually pays attention to the stories of the saints we commemorate with our modern, heavily-marketed holidays? Stories of beheadings are best forgotten if you’re trying to sell boxes of chocolate.
True, but what about the story of Jesus? Plenty of people know the details of his death. He too was given a gruesome end by the Roman Empire. But his followers refused to let that dark period be the end of the story. Before long, they began to talk about resurrection and the Holy Spirit, denying the so-called divinity of Caesar and instead lifting up the teacher of non-violent love as The example of God on earth.
Whether the story they tell is true or not, it is a testament to the human need (and capacity) to celebrate love over all darkness. I can get behind that.