Did you know that it may be the only universal feast, one that proudly belongs to our Catholic faith, Which IS celebrated by atheists, agnostics, Christians and of course Catholics? What a meaningful and wonderful feast; a celebration primarily between couples about the beauty of love, whose origins come from the Divine author of the Valentine biography. For it pleased God to give us a patron saint of love, a festival given to mankind especially on one day of the year, to honour human love, besides having feasts dedicated to honour our Lord. For it says…
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
Unlike human authors, where the knight in shining armour is also the beloved of his lady friend, the Divine Author, is different and as usual, has to be more in-depth with a holistic meaning. In His story, the hero who helped bind the unity between couples, is a Catholic priest!
Since it is God who instituted marriage and as it is a sacrament, only a priest, can help bring a couple into this married life. Therefore in His story, it was also a priest who valiantly defied kingly sovereignty, enduring martyrdom, to sacramentally unite every couple pledged in love. God’s hero boldly died committing to this great sacrament of love between a man and a woman.
The story of St. Valentine
St. Valentine was a Catholic priest of the third century. Little is known about him, but it is said that in his time the emperor Claudius II (much to the dismay of many to-be-married young couples), prohibited marriage, as he felt recruits were needed for the army. However Fr. Valentine was the only priest who contested this secretly and administered the sacrament of matrimony to couples, until Claudius received word and arrested him. Fr. Valentine was brought to trial and asked to give up his faith but he refused and instead tried to convert the emperor, who arranged for him to be clubbed and beheaded.
What the sacrament of love means to God and this saint
If St. Valentine died, to bind couples together in love, let us momentarily reflect on the greatness of this feast, not only in the way it is celebrated by the world, but what it meant to God and to this saint.
God has given the church, His treasure of sacraments but what is at the heart of a sacrament? Every sacrament is meant to start with self-evangelization of the individual through baptism, confession, communion, confirmation and anointing of the sick, so that you become and image of Christ. However, two very unique sacraments, matrimony and holy orders are vocational leadership sacraments, meant for the matured adult to branch out. Here you are officiated into the call of administering this love of Jesus in you, to others who need it and to younger ones, shaping them into another Christ, while edifying yourself being a leader. These sacraments are matrimony and holy orders.
Matrimony, is a call to evangelize (by firstly staying faithful to God) and then through the personal touch of love, evangelizing our spouse and other citizens, those of our inner-world; our children. God’s way of evangelizing is not always outwardly, to those around, but the more deeper evangelization, is to co-create and carry the message in word and action to them. Just as Jesus gave His apostles the very special gift of His personal love, when He lived with them, so too are we called to do in our families. This is why families are very important; they are tiny societies and the domestic church.
Priesthood or religious life is a call to evangelize by pastoral sacramental care to the faithful and then go out in mission, gathering more souls for their own salvation in Christ.
Rightly speaking then, the story of Valentine should not only point out to the greatness of the love between spouses (which is what St. Valentine believed in), but the martyred hero who protected this great love. Since this hero is a priest, we as celebrators need to then appreciate the love of both sacraments but that it is through the sacrament of Holy Order, there was born a priest who had undying love and defended marital love and that is not all. Priests today more than anyone realize the value of this love and put in a lot of effort, to protect families from falling apart. They are the only ones (more than others, some who support the easy way of divorce), who do extensive work in fighting to save marriages and help re-establish lost love, by way of their prayers, counseling, and retreats. Should we not be indebted to them, as the instrumental restorer of our marital love? Valentine’s day is a memorial of a heroic priest who died for something heroic – love!
Not (only) man, but it is rather God who first thought about careers, yet the nature of anything that comes from God is everlasting. Therefore these two vocational sacraments have to be covenantal, as they will have lasting fruits forever (unlike our careers). It is meant to bring the kingdom of God upon mankind, so that all people can live in love and harmony, from the small family nucleus societies to larger ones. God has a call for each of us to important and responsible leadership, in these roles as kings of our families or pastors of the flock.
The Croatian symbol of a couple’s real love: In the predominantly Catholic country of Croatia, couples entering marriage, walk into church and take their vows holding a crucifix, readily acknowledging the words of the priest. Therein, he reminds them that, entwined with Christ, they have found their “cross”, to be loved, cherished and never thrown down or despised. They are meant to place this cross for the rest of their lives in their home as a reminder of their vows, in and with Christ.
How can a couple appropriately celebrate St. Valentine’s day?
For those couples soon to be married, besides the joy of the external celebration, they should be realistic and understand the sacredness of a sacramental (covenantal) marriage. That they prepare themselves by firstly being faithful to God and a witness of love to each other. It is said that marriage is meant for the spouse to take the other to heaven.
For married couples, that besides an outward celebration of this wonderful day, they renew their love by joining in the celebration of the mass and interceding through St. Valentine, to give them a stronger spirit of sacrifice and joy.
St. Valentine who gave his life for the sacrament of marriage, was just like Christ, the high priest as in Ephesians 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her”
Two sacraments that depend on each other
Since the hero of the Divine story of matrimonial love, was a priest and not the lover, Catholic families are to recognize, that both vocations are about giving oneself for the love of the other, as St. Valentine did. That, just as this priest gave his life to secure the sacrament of marriage and it is only priests worldwide, who can administer this sacrament to bind a couple, married couples must also willingly offer and dedicate their offspring to Holy Orders and religious life. Both compliment each other and both are for the development of a holy society, remembering in the end that, all sacraments are to build and further God’s church. That under the umbrella of God’s agape love on this feast day, we understand that both these are two vocations of love, born of each other.
In the end, all these sacraments are outward signs of inward graces, given to human beings to help love the other and prepare them for the ultimate divine lover, when He receives us in our new home in paradise.