Reflections From History And Faith

By Jeff Olson

The history of Valentine’s Day and the story of its patron saint is a bit of a mystery, but we do know that it contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman traditions. 

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend relates that Valentine was a priest who served during the 3rd century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages in secret for young lovers. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him put to death.

Other stories contend that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl, possibly his jailer’s daughter who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine.”

 While the truth behind Valentine legends is questionable, the stories all emphasize his nature and appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure.

Why is Valentine’s Day on February 14? Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial. Others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia which was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. This celebration took place at the ides of February, or February 15.

In America, the tradition of the exchange of hand-made valentines probably began in the early eighteenth century. Esther A. Howland (1828-1904) is known as the“Mother of the American Valentine.” Upon receiving a valentine from a business associate of her father’s in 1847, she was inspired into making a better card and in doing so began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. As one author put it. “Be the sentiment amorous or platonic, Howland had created the nation’s best visual correlative for the words, “I love you.”

Many of us probably have our own fond memories and stories of Valentine’s Day. Can some of you remember back in grade school when your class exchanged Valentine’s cards? Then the cards got a little more serious as we grew older and maybe would be accompanied by candy or flowers or perhaps both. And then to the next level with dinner and a corsage for the dance. Cupid indeed worked in often creative (and expensive) ways to touch emotions in young hearts. You can remember, and so can I…

I can remember the first Valentine’s Day that my wife and I enjoyed together not long after we met. Little did we know in 1978 that at this writing we would be in our forty-fourth year of marriage with three children and three grandchildren. And, while that first Valentine’s Day together was indeed memorable, it really had little to do in a substantial way to what grew into genuine love and devotion in the years to come. The “…and the two shall become one” in our wedding vows evolved into deeper meaning in the ensuing years through our Christian faith and commitment to each other as love’s scope and depth grew commensurate with our relationship to and faith in God. And it became more abundantly clear that His teachings and our options would not include giving up.

Among the things we learned were one another’s needs and how best to meet them. That each of us could not meet all of one another’s needs. Humility – to admit wrongs over issues and disagreements (often petty). We learned that being right wasn’t always the most important purpose and outcome of a discussion or argument. We learned that an apology did not always serve to admit being wrong, but most importantly to restore relationship. We learned not to end the day in anger or unforgiveness. We learned the power of prayer – praying earnestly for our unborn baby who was expected to have Down’s syndrome or be stillborn. We learned the inconvenience of love – getting up in the middle of the night to care for a crying baby or worse, a sick one. And yes, even changing that catastrophic blow-out diaper that came at a most inopportune time…We learned how temporary and fragile life is when rushing a spouse on the brink of death with severe pneumonia to the hospital and praying that we get there in time. We learned that raising children means sacrificing for them and watching them grow and applying what we taught them – and always loving them unconditionally even when they made a wrong decision or let us down. We learned that parenting does not end at high school or college graduation – it is a lifetime role. We learned the blessed experience of holding a precious grandchild for the first time and the joys and occasional weariness of being Grandma and Grandpa. We learned that marriage is not a 50-50 proposition – it is a 100-100 responsibility not about either one of us first – but about us together first and most importantly about God and His rightful place in the center of our marriage and family. We learned that love is something for a lifetime that we decide to do one day at a time. Love is what we go through together each and every day. Such has been our experience, and we are still learning. Many of you can share the same story.

The point is that Cupid and all his minions are amateurs at best when it comes to love. While love may start out as little more than a strong feeling, not until you get into the thick of life’s journey together, committed to God and to each other in a covenantal relationship, will it transform into the love (agape) required to transcend and conquer all circumstances, trials, and challenges faced in life’s journey.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Jeff and Denise Olson!

Author Jeff Olson Hot Springs Village

Jeff Olson, Author