In the very midst of winter, each February ushers in the annual celebration of love – Valentine’s Day. Much of the imagery surrounding this day speaks to us of love’s sweetness, with festive hearts, candies, and cherubic Cupids. But the day’s namesake gives us pause, for St. Valentinus was a martyr for the truth.
Many of the details of Valentinus’ life remain shrouded in legend. Only the barest outline of a biography can be pieced together. He likely lived in the third century, ministering as a bishop or priest in the midst of cruel persecution. At some point, he like so many other Christians
of that era, was faced with a crucial choice – either deny Christ or accept torture and death as the price of fidelity. He chose the latter.
“Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away” (Song of Songs 8:7). The witness of martyrs such as Valentinus highlights for us the close link between love and sacrifice. The one who loves desires to remain faithful, come what may. This often entails sacrifice – relinquishing or denying oneself a series of lesser goods in favor of the surpassing good of one’s beloved. In the case of the martyrs, they recognized that even their very life itself could be parted with in favor of maintaining union with Christ. Could there possibly be a more powerful force in the universe than love? It alone is capable of overcoming even death.
Although most are not called to martyrdom, all are called to love. As we celebrate the joy of love this week under the patronage of St. Valentine, may God Who is Love pour forth His power into all the relationships which bind us together.