Friday, February 13, 2009

St. Valentine - A Brief Lesson

St. Valentine lived during the reign of the Roman emperor, Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel. Claudius was especially fond of persecuting Christians. It was these Christian martyrs whom Valentine, in his ministry, cared for and assisted in their time of suffering and sorrow.
Claudius II, as one would guess, had his empire involved in many unpopular wars and bloody campaigns. He, naturally, had great difficulty recruiting men to fill the ranks of the Roman military. Claudius thought that this was due to the men not wanting to leave their loved ones. So what does he do? He outlaws marriage! St. Valentine, in spite this ruling, performed marriages in secret. He is believed to have been the first priest to perform a marriage between a pagan man and a Christian woman. Unfortunately, Valentine was discovered and jailed. To be freed, all Valentine had to do was to renounce his Christian faith. Valentine refused and, for that, was sentenced to execution by clubbing and stoning.

While in jail awaiting for his sentence to be carried out, St. Valentine corresponded with his parishioners by sending letters and notes of love. Legend has it that he fell in love with one of his frequent visitors: Julia, the blind daughter of Asterius, his jailer. God enabled Valentine to miraculously restore Julia’s site and converted her heart, and that of her father, to the Christian faith.

As with any good love story, there is bound to be a tragic end. Tradition holds that as Valentine was being led to his execution he wrote one last farewell note of love, to his beloved Julia. His closing words are immortalized to this day: “From your Valentine”. The execution sentence was carried out. Strangely, Valentine survived the clubbing and stoning only to be eventually beheaded on February 14, 269 or 270 AD!

The pagan origin of St. Valentine’s Day is somewhat sordid in nature. In ancient Rome, on February 15, the people celebrated the Festival of Lupercalia, dedicated to the Roman god Lupercus. On this day, young men would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery. He would then keep this woman as his sexual companion for the year. After Christianity took hold in the region, Pope Gelasius I was able to change tradition by taking this lottery and having both men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year (much to the disappointment of some Roman men, I am sure!) The patron of this feast became Valentine and the date of his martyrdom became the date for this celebration. For Roman men, unable to let go of the past, this day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women. It became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine’s name.

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