Even at the slightest hint of the expression ‘Valentine’, the sheer emotions of the love-struck, lonely, romanticizing, optimistic and cynical masses are set on fire. Everyone seems to have an opinion on Valentine’s Day. Indifference to the holiday is an uncommon view, and the cultural perspective has become confusing and trivialized. While having an opinion is not a bad thing, some of the ways people express their viewpoints has further cluttered the commemoration of St. Valentine. And this has significant social effects. Why? The likely answer may be surprising, but it is nonetheless ingrained within the fabric of being a Christian.
Any fair investigation into what Valentine’s Day has become must naturally begin with what it was intended for. History is vague, if not wholly inconclusive on the more significant details of Saint Valentine. Legend says that Valentine was martyred during the reign of the Roman Empire sometime around A.D. 200-300. While the reason of his martyrdom is uncertain, the most common account speaks of Valentine’s defiance of the Roman emperor Claudius who forbade all Roman soldiers from having wives or children. Valentine, who was a priest, considered the declaration a distressing injustice and continued marrying soldiers in secret. Eventually his acts were exposed, and he was put to death under edict from Claudius. The Catholics Church recognizes three Saint Valentines, lending much to the uncertainty surrounding the holiday’s origin. Nevertheless, the sentiment behind its genesis echoes the notion that the cause for love is just, in spite of any context.
So what has Valentine’s Day become? The official holiday was inaugurated during the Middle Ages in both England and France, as tradition held that February 14th marked the beginning of birds’ mating season. The poetic symbolism is fairly obvious, but over time the holiday evolved from ritualistic appreciation of fertility and romantic union to a day of materialism on one side of the spectrum and downright cynicism on the other.
There seems to be a lacking appreciation of love on the day of love’s appreciation.
This is a difficult commentary to accept from a Christian worldview, where love is so thoroughly entrenched within the consciousness of the believer. Though, the pessimism toward the once holy day (holiday) is easy to comprehend in examination of the corrupted concept of love in modern culture. Love had once been defined by selflessness, and devoted consideration to the needs of others. More specifically, as Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, true love had been created as patient and kind; without enviousness, boastfulness, arrogance or rudeness; insisting not on its own way; never ill-tempered, resentful, bitter.
Now love is often used as mere device to acquire, instead of the means by which each gives to another. Love is obscured and meaningless within many modern relationships because it has lost its original intention, purpose, value, and definition. In the bible God is described as love, but culturally this designation has been reversed instead to assert that love is god. This idolatry has deeply taken root within the vast soil of modern society and Valentine’s Day is one of the clearest portraits of this. Having been birthed from a genuine devotion to love romantic, neighborly and Godly, the day is hardly recognizable from the essence it had once possessed. The day and concept of love are both now so much about fulfilling our personal desires, without sacrifice, or absolute attention to others within their own needs and desires.
There is seldom a simple gratefulness of love in our culture, in its purest, most sacrificial, most beautiful form. C.S. Lewis writes in his book The Four Loves, “Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.” The notion is just, but the reality of its practice is far-removed in this culture of self-adoration.
However, the cynicism surrounding Valentine’s Day can be as misapplied as the modern practice of its celebration, especially within Christianity. It would seem often that a Christian’s distaste for Valentine’s Day on well-founded stances of anti-materialism can lead to a lowly judgment of those who celebrate it sincerely with their loved ones. It is as if simply due to the cultural misinterpretation of the holiday’s purpose, some accept a disparagement of the sentiment altogether. How has a day of appreciating love become an excuse to mock it?
Is it possible that a judgmental attitude, however virtuous, toward a day commemorating true love goes as much against the teachings of Christ as the distressing cultural redefinition of love Christian’s now rally against?
Sure, the day is in a sense owned by corporations attempting to sell true love. But what if it was remarketed as a day to commemorate God’s great love for His creation, and the love that is available to each one because of it? What if there was a cultural shift from indulgence of self to true appreciation of each other? What might it look like if Valentine’s Day was a day defined by selfless appreciation? Maybe if Valentine’s Day was remarketed specifically toward generosity, thankfulness and appreciation people would begin to see each other not as the culture has defined, but as God does. Individuals within society might then truly believe identity is not shaped by appearance, or determined by possession, or centered on knowing the right people and being seen with them.
The day commemorating Saint Valentine is profound not because of human romance but because of Divine Love. He was martyred because of his belief that all humanity should be allowed to love the way God had intended. And his conviction was possible only because a Man who was God loved humanity enough to subject Himself to the cross. Love was intended for this end, and so our effort should reflect his love. As it says in scripture, “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).
Therefore, in conclusion, happy Valentine’s Day.