Valentine’s Eve at Church

At the Presbyterian church this morning, the theme was love, since tomorrow will be St. Valentine’s day. The pastor told us about St. Valentine—though, actually, he told us late legends about St. Valentine.

The pastor told us a couple of stories. In the first one, Valentine felt inadequate because the other clerics were doing important stuff like translating the Bible, whereas he didn’t feel that he was contributing that much. But he had a flower garden, and, when a little girl came and asked him for one of his flowers, he got an idea: why not give flowers to the lonely to express love for them?

In the second story, Valentine was a Christian cleric in the third century C.E., which was when the Roman emperor Claudius II was persecuting Christians. Claudius wanted people to go to war, but many of them didn’t want to do so because they had families, and so Claudius banned marriage. But Valentine continued to perform marriages. In jail, he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. Right before his death, he wrote a farewell note to her, signing it “Your Valentine.”

I couldn’t find anything online about Claudius banning marriage, but I did see that Valentine performed Christian marriages. According to this Catholic site, Valentine’s offense was that he helped Christians, which was against the law under Claudius. This site also said that Valentine existed, but that there were many legends that accumulated about him.

In my Catholic Lives of the Saints, I just read that Valentine in the third century assisted Christian martyrs under Claudius, and was arrested, beaten with clubs, and beheaded. The book then states: “The custom of sending valentines on this day is the revival of an ancient pagan practice, which consisted in boys drawing the names of girls in honor of their goddess, Februata Juno, on February 15. To abolish this practice names of saints were substituted on billets drawn upon this day.” So I guess the Armstrongs were right: Valentine’s Day has pagan origins!

I liked a study that the pastor mentioned this morning. It concerned poverty in Appalachia, and it compared a poor family with a more affluent family. According to the study, the more affluent family had neighbors who cared about them. The pastor’s point was that love can encourage us and enliven us.

I agree with this. Don’t get me wrong—a lot of times, I have gotten annoyed at people following up on things with me, since I get tired of repeating the same stuff over and over to different people, plus I don’t like people pitying me. I don’t know how to respond to that. But I do appreciate people caring. And I do agree that love is encouraging. As I listened to the sermon, I was reminded of what Henri Nouwen said in The Wounded Healer: he talked about a lonely farmer in the hospital, and he thought that nobody cared about whether he lived or died. Nouwen said that a seminary student who visited this farmer didn’t know what to do, but Nouwen said that the student could have made clear to the farmer that he cared.

I wrote about Valentine’s Day for a few years on my blog: in my first Valentine’s Day blog, Valentine’s Day 2008, I whined and complained about not having a relationship. In my next one, Valentine’s Day 2009, I quoted the movie Spiderman. I didn’t even write about Valentine’s Day in 2010. Tomorrow, I won’t write a Valentine’s Day post. But I will say today that I learned something valuable about Valentine’s Day: that it’s not just about romance, but it’s also about love—for the lonely, for our family and friends, etc. And I think it’s good to be reminded of love. I don’t care if the stories about St. Valentine are mere legend, or if the holiday has pagan origins.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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