The story of St. Valentine brings us to the third century Rome, circa 268 AD. When you think of Rome, you think of the mighty Roman Empire, vast and sprawling, dominating Europe and Northern Africa. In actuality, the third century wasn’t a very prosperous period in Roman history.
The Empire was struggling to avoid collapse due to an invasion, civil unrest, economic depression, and plague. But why? Assassinations and political upheaval were devastating the government. for nearly 50 years, the throne of the Roman Empire was up for grab. Twenty-six generals, politicians, and tyrants took up the reins of the empire in this short period and each one tried to implement change on the people.
Now, at this time, the Christian faith had spread and become established in Rome. There wasn’t a pope yet, but there was a bishop with 46 priests. Christianity, though fast-growing, was a minority. And they were persecuted as such.
In 250 AD, Decius, a brief and former emperor during the Crisis, decreed all Romans make sacrifices to the Roman gods in a failed effort to unify the crumbling country under one religion. So, Valentine was already living under religious prosecution for over a decade before his martyrdom.
In 269 AD, the last year of Valentine’s life, Claudius the Cruel sat on the Roman throne. This latest emperor was renowned for his love of bloody campaigns. To support them, he needed men. And men with families didn’t like to leave home.
So, Claudius in his wisdom and justice banned all marriages and engagements. The Christian church “thought that marriage was very sacred between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged.” Claudius’ edict became a moral dilemma for Christian priests such as Valentine.
Believing in his faith, Valentine defied the order and married young lovers in secret. By choosing to do so, he knowingly risked his life. And unfortunately, he was caught. And imprisoned. And tortured. But even in prison he performed miracles.
One of the Roman men assigned to judge him was named Asterius. He had a blind daughter. In an unexplainable act, Valentine prayed over Asterius’ daughter and healed her. Not surprisingly, Asterius converted to Christianity. But this was not enough to save Valentine. He was still ordered to be executed in three parts: beating, stoning, and then beheading. His last letter was to Asteruis’ daughter. He signed it, your Valentine.When you think of Valentine’s Day, you might want to believe it’s a commercial holiday conjured by corporations such as Hallmark and Hershey. And though it may have become more material in the 21st century, Valentine’s sacrifice is still relevant. He believed in marriage and the unity of lovers enough to give his life. As Father
O’Gara explains, “What Valentine means to me as a priest is that there comes a
time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe.” Whether
your Christian or not, married or not, do you have faith in your beliefs? Would
you lay down your life for them? Would you lay down your life, so others could
These questions are still as relevant today as they were one thousand seven hundred and nine years ago. These are the questions we should be asking ourselves on Valentine’s Day. And of course, we should honor the beliefs we’re privileged to practice freely and not take them for granted. Spend time with your loved ones and cherish them.